What am I going to do when I learn that a classmate has basically stolen my story idea and is winning a contest using my story? What should I do if I discover that a classmate had used the plot and theme of a story I wrote a few months ago, and simply changed the names of my original characters and changed the place in which my story was set? This paper responds to that challenge and brings emotional intelligence into the issue.
My story and the plagiarized version of my story
Some months ago I published a short story on an Internet site that got a great deal of positive response from those visiting the site. It was a story based on a major blizzard that hit western Minnesota. Emma, the wife of the protagonist Victor, was isolated in her home by a winter storm that dumped two and a half feet of snow on the ground. The ice storm that followed the blizzard literally froze the doors and window shut, and Emma could not even go out to fetch more firewood. Her husband Nolan had gone mountain climbing in late fall and had never returned. He was actually wounded from a gunshot, and an old mountain hermit had found him bleeding and had taken him to a little hunting cabin where Nolan was healing. But Nolan's cell phone was out of batteries and he was unable to contact his wife to let her know he was okay and would be home as soon as his leg wound healed sufficiently.
This story was illustrated with vivid artwork that my friend Jesse had provided; I am not good with drawing and I enjoyed collaborating with Jesse because he couldn't write very creatively but he was so very talented in the illustration genre. I had received numerous positive posts after the story with its illustrations had been online.
I was absolutely shocked when Jesse told me he had read James' "winning" story in the writing contest, and it was remarkably similar to my story. In James' story a man had gone hunting (not mountain climbing) and was injured in a fall. His wife was stuck in a snowstorm back home in Wisconsin (instead of Minnesota) and he had no way to let her know he was all right. It was a rip-off if I ever saw one. Instead of reacting immediately, I sat down and coolly made a decision as to what I would do about this matter.
What am I going to do?
On the day before the awards were to be given out, I called James and without letting him know what I was up to, I asked if we could have coffee together in a local Starbucks. He wondered why and I explained that I was looking for a collaborator to help me with an original play concept I hoped to launch in the spring. We did meet, he ordered a latte and I ordered a hot chocolate with no whipped cream.
As soon as we sat down I laid a copy of my story on the table next to a copy of his story. He knew right away what I was really doing, and his guilt at the obvious plagiarism was written across his face. "I'm sorry," James offered, his hands shaking. "I did use your story idea but I changed it so it wasn't exactly like yours," he justified, and I could see he was perspiring on his forehead.
"James you plagiarized," I stated calmly. "I am upset that something I wrote wins a prize for another person who used my story to gain attention and prestige," I said without raising my voice. "I placed third with my original story and you placed first with a very close adaptation of one of my stories. How would you feel if you were me?"
"I can only say I am sorry and hope you will not hurt me by making this public," he said. "I'm begging you to give me a break. Please don't get me in trouble, I'll make it up to you."
I was cool as a cucumber when I made my statement to him. "James, I am going to make this public and you are going to be embarrassed. I am not a mean-spirited person by nature but I work hard on my creative writing assignments and even when I am not assigned a story I write new articles that I freelance to local publications," I explained. "I am working towards becoming a serious professional writer but part of the writing process involves ethical values which I stick to. I may get an idea from another story someone has written, but my stories are all original. I am going to notify the judges today before the banquet, and show them my story and yours, and you are going to have to learn a tough lesson, James."
Emotional Intelligence -- how it factors in to this situation.
In a peer-reviewed article published by the journal Annals of Neurosciences, the authors explain that many of life's outcomes are not adequately explained by "traditional measures of cognitive intelligence" but they can be predicted "…through emotional intelligence" (Singh, et al., 2012). Emotional intelligence is the "…ability to recognize emotion, reason with emotion and emotion-related information, and process emotional information" as a part of the need to solve problems.
Singh suggests that those individuals with high levels of emotional intelligence can "significantly predict healthy functioning" and can also see the distress in others and not only understand how trauma can impact another person, but can empathize with that person. Singh goes on to explain that persons with a high level of emotional intelligence experience less stress in their own lives (Sing, 107).
I believe I have a high level of emotional intelligence because even though I was on one level astonished that someone would use my story as the basis for her supposedly original story, on another level I was calmly deciding the ethical thing to do. Looking back over the past couple years, I can see that my memory, my capacity for full concentration (while avoiding distractions), and my ability to remain calm even in potentially stressful situations, leads me to believe I do have high levels of emotional intelligence. Both my parents have high levels of emotional intelligence (my dad is a lawyer and mom is a professor of mathematics), and so it is reasonable that I should have the same levels of emotional intelligence.
My high level of emotional intelligence did factor into this scenario, and James' lower level of emotional intelligence did factor into this scenario as well. I knew that I had a high level of emotional intelligence going into the meeting with James because I was rational, calculating and prepared to calmly respond objectively to his emotions (anger, embarrassment and guilt).
James, meanwhile, seems to have a lower level of emotional intelligence because while he is athletic and attractive, he does not handle stress well. According to the University of New Hampshire psychology department a person with low emotional intelligence is more apt to engage in "self-destructive, negative behaviors" like drug use, abuse of alcohol, and occasional violent episodes (www.unh.edu). It is well-known that James likes to party, has been caught with beer in his car, and is not motivated to succeed in his scholastic endeavors. Moreover, James gets upset easily and has been penalized in his football games for "unnecessary roughness." He panicked when I told him I was going to follow through and take his grand prize away from him because he stole from me. That is a sign of low levels of emotional intelligence.
His friends have told me he cannot contend with "…aggravations and frustrations" even though he…