February 21, 2011
On this President’s Day, I sit in snowy Bavaria, contemplating the state of our world today. The weekend edition of my sleepy town’s paper reported on a University of South Carolina study that found 92% of the participants lied when communicating via Email (all efforts to find the original study failed so for the purposes of this post, I am going to give the newspaper the benefit of the doubt).
The study participants were given $89, then told to let an unknown recipient how much money they had in the kitty and how much they were willing to share. A whopping ninety-two percent who used Email to convey their message were dishonest about the amount they had available to them (to their advantage). For those in the study who were required to write a letter instead, only 63% (still a huge number) lied about it.
You might argue that most people have a skewed relationship with money and are therefore dishonest about such things. But even when it comes to plagiarism, people risk being tossed out of school, or as in the case of Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, Germany’s most favored politician, some risk being tossed out of office.
Having experienced what it feels like to see my own words in print under someone else’s name (a political science professor whom I greatly admired lifted a full two paragraphs from a graduate studies research paper I had written and claimed it as his own), I am following the plagarism scandal that Mr (can I still say Dr?) zu Guttenberg has swirling around him. He is accused of plagiarizing almost 100 different passages from newspapers and other published works in his doctoral thesis. While he has claimed his innocence (and part of me really wants to believe him), the piling evidence is stacked against him.
When an elected official plagiarizes, what does this teach our children? It opens up the opportuntiy for discussion about what is right and what is wrong. And yet I wonder, beyond the initial learning moment, whether they too will be pressured to keep pace with the increasing demands and give in to the temptation to do a quick cut and paste at crunch time.
Zu Guttenberg, a German royal (yes, we have those, too) with 10 first names, launched his political career while raising a young family (okay, his wife did the heavy-lifting) and writing a 450+ page doctoral thesis. Nonetheless, we must hold him to the same standard as anyone else. Cheating is cheating, no matter how many names you possess.
In our 24/7 Internet world, it’s imperative that we maintain a high level of integrity. It’s too easy to lift ideas and call them your own, all in the name of ‘saving time’. But, as in the case of my wayward professor who landed in the hospital with a broken pelvis after playing soccer shortly after I confronted him (in a letter), life teaches us that there are no shortcuts. Sooner or later someone will discover you’ve lied in an Email, or in a published work.
My power of slow advice to you all is to give credit where credit is due. Source it, people. It won’t make you shine less to give someone else the kudos for their hard-earned work. In fact, in this day and age, you might be the rare 8% who stand out as a superstar because you actually told the truth.
- German minister accused of plagiarising thesis (telegraph.co.uk)
- German minister rejects quitting in plagiarism row (reuters.com)
June 22, 2010
Publishing a book about slowing down can be a daunting task for any self-respecting house. The publisher engages in a game of risk that the author might not deliver on time because she has drunk the Kool-Aid too much, bringing her project to a screeching halt before it has even taken off. Will she take her slow principles so seriously as to dodge deadline and head for the beach instead? Truth be told, I’ve never written a book so fast in my life.
The irony of writing a book such as The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time in Our 24/7 World is the method in which it was created. I went about applying the very principles I discuss because, after all, practicing and preaching go hand in hand. While the title implies a turtle’s pace, I actually found myself in a semi-permanent state of flow, as if forces beyond my understanding had housed my writer’s mind. Not unlike my other works, the title took form first, followed by the structure. Because I work well with a framework, it seemed to make sense to design the book with an equal number of principles in each of the first ten chapters, then leave the most powerful, and most simple, principle for last. Without my knowing, the final principle was the same one that informed all the rest, making a neat package to present the reader with a satisfying ending. When I huddled with my agent about the idea, it seemed to stem from nowhere. In reality it was a compilation of various germinating ideas that bloomed at the right moment.
Writing a book can be overwhelming, bringing about what Germans call the innerer Schweinehund, the inner pig-dog also known as our procrastinating selves that offer textbook reasoning as to why now is never a good idea. If you lack a certain level of organizational skill, the inner pig-dog licks its chops as you suffer the consequences of your own behavior. Any publisher would agree procrastination leads to a domino effect. You simply can’t afford to put off today what you can do tomorrow.
While not a procrastinator, I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly well-organized person. One look at my desk reveals a lazy chaos of deserted thoughts: the cell phone charger interlaced with a stapler; unusable pens in an upside down CD tower top; two TV media clips from recent segments I’ve done; and old tickets from performances that haven’t made it to the scrapbook I’ve been meaning to do since my first child’s arrival (she is eleven). Bobbing above the chaos are two pictures of my children whose encouraging faces remind me why I engage in storytelling on virtually a daily basis.
The power of slow is a mental state, and while some organization experts would chastise me for my failing discipline, I know exactly where everything is. I consider the creative chaos to be visual cues to our human dilemma: life isn’t all sharpened pencils and dust-free surfaces. If my desk were battened down in controlled rows of calm, I’d never be in a position to unleash the creative fury dwelling deep inside. I managed to write a book in record time (before the January deadline), despite the uneven stacks of paper gracing my office floor. Sound like I’m making excuses? Perhaps I am.
Productivity is a term with deep implications in Western society. If we obtain it, we are considered successful. If we don’t, we are not. While writing The Power of Slow, I examined why we do the things we do such as obsessive email checking or excessive texting. It’s not particularly productive, nor does it add to our well-being. Why do we spend so much time with our gadgets in a virtual realm of connectivity? We ignore the people standing right beside us, interrupt them when our phones ring, and talk more animatedly into a headset than to our fellow peers in the next cubicle. In effect, we waste the units in our personal bank account of time, often engaging in useless activity.
Where are our manners? Where is our mindfulness for ourselves and others? We are in danger of becoming drones in a drama of our own making. We need to act fast in order to slow down.
Unplugging for two weeks, I gathered up my family, who had already begun showing signs of book fatigue by late August, and took them to the Adriatic coast for some fun in the sun. Saddled down with seven books, I had read and highlighted every single one by the last day of vacation. Living the slow, I strolled along the pool one day when it hit me. I could actually hear the sound of my own flip flops as they slapped my heels in rhythm to the burbling water before me. Inspired, I grabbed a notebook and jotted down a few ideas about walking speed and the pace of life. The flip-flop principle of checking how fast we walk by noting the speed of the slap was born. Many more ideas followed in rapid succession. In fact, the modernized fable of the unplugged tortoise and the online hare in the prologue arrived right on time as I banged out chapter after chapter while sitting in a hotel room in Budapest.
The beauty of the Internet is a writer’s ability to work and live virtually anywhere. With this malleability comes the danger, not just for writers, but for any transient worker, of an unabashed, hyperconnectivity that zaps our life force for all its worth. Admittedly, I had one media interview (ironically about slow living) while in Italy, and a client call while in Budapest. These minor distractions reminded me that there is a world waiting for us all whenever we choose to visit, but that how we live now is all there truly is.