Giving Credit

Of course you can protect your work with a copyright notice. And you can take the additional step and protect it with the U.S. Government, so you can sue a violator not only for use, but for damages. (You can’t sue for damages unless you register your work.)

Tree of Life, Klimt. No longer under copyright. Image from

Tree of Life, Klimt. No longer under copyright. Image from

Giving credit openly and freely would make most copyright unnecessary. Giving credit is not a boring obligation, it is a smart way to get your name known. To be more visible on the internet. Giving credit makes you look smart, but even better, helpful.

How does it work? Simple. When you use a photo from Flickr, Creative Commons (following their rules first), or mention a book, a quote, or an idea that is not yours, tell your readers where it came from. And not just whose work it is, but where you found it. For example, if you find an image of Klimt’s on a website by butterycrumpets (on Let’s Draw Sherlock!, for example) it becomes a different story than if you find a Kimt image on Wikipedia. The context is different, and the story you have to tell about it is different.

A different kind of tree. A Palo Verde whose brilliant yellow blossoms drift into desert snow this time of year.

A different kind of tree. A Palo Verde whose brilliant yellow blossoms drift into desert snow this time of year.

Context changes emotions and opinions, and when you leave breadcrumbs for people to follow, you open up a whole new path for people who are curious and interested in more than knowing where to take the next Kimt image from.

When you give credit, you become the person in charge of information, and people will think of you as a good resource. (Not a bad way to be thought of.)

When you give credit, you also share information, and as Annie Dillard warns, “Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Giving credit makes you look generous. That includes techniques you learn in a class, ideas you came up with (but find that others share, too), and shortcuts that make you look smart.

Why share? Because it makes the world more interesting, more expansive, and encourages other people to share your ideas and class tips. And to quote Annie Dillard again (Goodreads is wonderful for finding quotes):

“There is always the temptation in life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for years on end. It is all so self conscience, so apparently moral…But I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous…more extravagant and bright. We are…raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.” ― Annie Dillard

–Quinn McDonald is surprised how many people think clutching information to their chest is a way to become smarter. Every teacher knows that you learn by teaching.

Skidding into a New Culture

In September of 2006, I was sitting in a mah-jongg group when the conversation turned to the real-estate market. I said I didn’t understand how lending companies thought it was a good idea to give interest-only loans. They were based on the idea that housing prices would continue to rise, and that, in my opinion, couldn’t happen indefinitely.

Mah-jongg tiles

Mah-jongg tiles

Another woman in the group clacked down a tile and said, “That’s why you aren’t a banker or loan office; you don’t understand those things.” I might add that this woman was bright and was in a powerful career.

Now, of course, it turns out that a lot more people had no idea how the market would sustain itself. The economy is in horrible shape. And now, before it becomes old hat, it’s time for me to point at something else that’s not working, that will have to change before the country gets it’s act together.

Competition doesn’t work. It doesn’t make people stronger. It doesn’t create better teams. Now, before you start lighting the torches and picking up the pitchforks, let me explain.

There was a time when competition was a simple pitting of a skill or product. At that time, the point of competition was to make the best of yourself and show it. The winner honored victory by pointing to the fact that a lot of talent showed up, and a good game was the best result. Winners were gracious in victory.

Slowly, this changed. Competition has come to mean more than winning, it has come to mean someone else has to lose. And not just lose, but be a “loser”— a term that has come into our vocabulary to mean a failure, rather than someone who didn’t win a game. Winning meant that any means to win was fair—doping, cheating, lying, it was all grist for the competition mill. If you weren’t “Number One,” you weren’t anybody.

To prove our own worth, we bought enormous houses with space we didn’t need, a bigger car than our neighbors, until a tank of an SUV, the Hummer, was a sign that you not only had $50,000 to spend on a car, but you didn’t care about how much gas you used. No one actually needs to drive a Hummer. It became some sort of twisted  proof you weren’t a loser.

Companies vied against each other in ways that made winning more important than anything else. CEOs received bonuses that most of us in the common ruck won’t earn in a year. They deserved it because they were winners.

And now the winning is over. We all lost. Our culture lost, our society lost. Sure, there are still some super rich people who don’t care about anyone below their level of achievement, but the dream is over. 100,000 Americans lost their jobs last week. It’s time to wake up.

I’d like to suggest that it’s time to put away the competition–the fighting for the bigger piece of the pie. It’s time to admit we made a big mess, and go back to knowing our neighbors, sharing what we have and working together. Riding public transportation is a good way to get to know the people who live in your neighborhood. Giving them a ride is a good way to know them, too.

Buying in quantity and sharing is a valuable way to save money. It requires knowing and trusting people, instead of pitting yourself against them.

Pull your money from the huge, global banks that still are spending millions on decorating their offices, and use small local banks, who invest in your neighborhood.

Get to know who is good at home repair and ask them to help you while you help in their garden. Or create a baby-sitting or carpool group.

Our coming together as a healthy culture will begin when we admit that we need each other. We can’t make it to the top alone. Now, while so many of us are on a leveled playing field, might be a smart time to give up believing we are “Number One” and create a new community of awareness, sharing and helping each other.

And if I’m wrong,  the worse that can happen is that you’ll have a lot of friends when the economy comes back. At best, this belief will build a new economy of ideas and learning, of sharing and building things of value. And our heroes and celebrities will be people who contribute to that culture, rather than people who are famous for their ability to stay in the public eye because of marriage, divorce, and clothing.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach who runs workshops in communications. She owns QuinnCreative.