Originally posted on Monday, October 29, 2007
When I was growing up I had written a story. It was a story of which I was incredibly proud. I had shared this story with my little brother, Yancy. A few weeks later my little brother was very excited because a short story he had written won a writing contest and would be included in a publication at his elementary school. It wasn’t long before the stapled-together booklet came home with my brother’s short story. As I read the first sentence I found myself my temper beginning to rise within me. The reason I was feeling angry was because the story my brother had written was my story. The one I had written and had told him about.
I immediately wanted justice for this “stealing” of my idea. Had I known what the word plagiarism was back then, I probably would have used that when I was stating my case to my mom who, after listening, responded with something like, “Jason, your little brother copied your idea because he looks up to you. You’re his big brother who wrote a story; he wanted to write a similar story…he did it because you’re his hero.”
I didn’t see how stealing my idea had anything to do with being a hero, and once-again tried to get my mom to see my side of the situation. After listening to me rant on yet again, my mom tried to get me to see what she was trying to say. I just didn’t get it. She ended the conversation with the following words, “Jason, imitation is the highest form of flattery, and one day you’ll understand it.”
Many years have flown since that day when my brother and I were both children, and I have to say that over these days I have finally came to understand what it was my mother meant. When we copy what someone else does, we are in essence saying, “I want to be like you,” or “You are somebody that I look up to.” By imitating them, we are sending a message, a message without any words.
I was recently absent for about a week from the classroom where I teach sixth grade. When I returned to school today, I was greeted with a surprise. You see, four days each week I dress up for school—usually with a white shirt and tie. Today was no exception. However, as I went outside this morning to retrieve my class, I noticed that one of my students, whom I’ll christen as “Chase,” was wearing a white shirt and tie as well.
At first I didn’t say anything to him about this, but instead just gave him a little wink and a smile as he walked into the school with the rest of his classmates. After the first few hours of class I found myself on recess duty, walking the playground with Chase following in my wake. I stopped and began to talk to him, “Chase, you dressed up today. Could I ask you why?”
Chase smiled and said, “Well Mr. Z, you were gone all last week and I knew you were coming back today and, well, I just felt like dressing up.”
As Chase and I walked the playground together talking, I began to remember that time as a boy when my little brother had copied my story. I’ll admit I hadn’t thought about this story for quite some time. As I did I smiled. My mom was right when she’d said that one of the greatest compliments we can give to others is our emulation of them.
I spoke with Chase’s mother this evening. In our conversation she said that Chase had worn his white shirt and tie every one of the days I had been absent from school. She also said that last night he was adamant that his white shirt needed to be laundered; he’d told her that it needed to be clean because today was the day I’d be returning.
“I think he was trying to impress someone,” she said.
Impress someone he had.
When the end of the school day arrived I thanked Chase. I thanked him for the compliment he had given to me. There are no words more powerful this boy could have spoken to his teacher which could have sent a message greater than the one he did by simply coming to school wearing a white shirt and a tie.