Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Giving It Away

I'm extremely irritated right now. I was just chastised, on a free and open forum discussing spiritual issues, by someone for not giving away for free my knowledge and experience, in the form of my original writing about my own life. The chastisement arose because I signed my writing, and used the copyright symbol and dated it.

It was implied that only charlatans earn their income from selling their teachings. (Even though I posted this on a forum, for free, with no expectation of anyone even reading it.) It was implied that only a "controlling teacher" would use the copyright symbol. It was implied that I was a bad person for not simply giving away, for no recognition, no cost, no signature, all my hard-earned writing, knowledge and experience. It was presumed that my use of the copyright notice, after posting my own writing, somehow meant that I was trying to force people to believe what I had to say, that I was a running-dog capitalist, and that nothing I said could possibly be of any merit because obviously I was preaching my word from on high!

This is utter bullshit.

And this is what Harlan Ellison has to say about that, which I completely and utterly agree with. (I've posted this before, but apparently even some writers need to be reminded of it.)

Harlan Ellison is exactly right: Why do people assume that writers don't need to be paid? or even given credit, in the form of a proper citation after a quote, for their work?

I'll tell you what I think: Since these implications about my being bad and wrong happened on a forum about spirituality, and since many people involved in searching for an alternative to establishment religions are incredibly dysfunctional about their expectations in terms of their training and search for knowledge, I can make educated guesses about the thinking behind the person who tried to chastise me for daring to sign and copyright my own work.

This person had previously made a comment, later reversed, that there are no real shaman anymore in the world, only charlatans and wannabes. The assumption being that, for example, anyone who pays some expedition leader to take them to have a shamanic experience in the wilds of some tribal culture;s homeland is throwing their money away to charlatans and con-men. Although this person later reversed their opinion that there are no real shaman left in the world, after called on it by a couple of others, myself included, it's clear that he operates under the usual assumption that money can only taint spiritual seeking. That money is inherently evil, and spirituality is inherently good only if kept free of the capitalistic sins of the flesh. Therefore, all books on spirituality which the author got paid to write, and collected royalties upon, are tainted by definition, and therefore all such authors are charlatans. It's perfectly true that some are—but not all, and not for those reasons.

It was further assumed that I was speaking from a position of a teacher who wanted to control the knowledge I was dispensing, merely because I used the copyright symbol. Since I wasn't dispensing knowledge, but only telling my own story, this assumption is ludicrous. The actual pieces of my writing in question are some fragments towards an autobiography, written a few years ago, which are entirely about my own experiences, that tell no one what to think or believe, and are in no way a set of organized teachings or doctrines, and require no one to believe in what I wrote. In fact, the tone of the essay is searching, diffident, hesitant, and vulnerable: a writing in which I felt quite nakedly self-revealing in my honesty about my own life-experiences. To be labeled a "controlling teacher," because I included the copyright symbol when I cut and pasted this writing from my website onto the forum in question, is extremely offensive. I only cut and paste it, rather than linking to it from that forum, because I was encouraged to do so on the grounds that the forum's owner preferred it that way, as he knew that many folks would not exercise themselves to follow links, and it was better to have the contents at hand, for discussion. Had I linked, I doubt I would have been chastised for using the copyright symbol on my own website. (Or on this blog, for that matter.)

At the same time, the person who chastised me (not the forum owner, but a moderator) has repeatedly copied and pasted copyrighted material onto this forum, with no attributions, and no credit given. Even when he openly admits its not his writings, but someone else's, we are not told who that source was.

His rationale is that all spiritual teachings are free and open to all, and should not be controlled. Nowhere does he seem to understand I actually agree with him about spiritual teachings being free and open, and that in fact all that is copyrighted is my words, my own story, my version of the teachings, and my written experience, knowledge, and individual content. Of course no one can control and cage a teaching—the Tao that can be named is not the true Tao, everyone knows that already—but my particular translation of the Tao, in my words, is an artistic product that I can take enough credit for to expect to be attributed, and/or compensated.

Again, this is typical of the dysfunction of many contemporary seekers after the truth: it's all free and open, and no one has to pay for anything. That commonly arises from a quite valid rejection of the hypocrisies of many organized religions, which are forever demanding tithes while offering no spiritual sustenance; and it is the lack of spiritual certainty that drives many seekers away from the organized religions they were raised in, to go off and seek something else, something better. We indeed live in a time of the rule of the Pharisees. So it is quite common for many seekers to automatically equate any form of tithing as a rip-off, and furthermore to equate any whiff of named service as automatically coming from a minion of Control. The irony of course is that it was the founders of many of the world's organized religions who equated the accumulation of wealth as being a sin, forever missing the point that it is the attachment to accumulating wealth, not wealth itself, that sours the milk. We take the exhortation to poverty of spirit too literally, and require it to be poverty of flesh, to be saintly. It's amusing how many followers of the new age take this very Christian assumption about the inherent evil of money with them wherever they spiritually travel.

So let me clarify this for you right now: when you offer a white scarf to the Dalai Lama when visiting him, when you offer tobacco to a Lakota elder before a sweatlodge that elder is leading for your healing, you are giving symbolic payment—an exchange of energy—for their accumulated years (or centuries) or wisdom and experience. You are honoring their practice, their accumulated wisdom and knowledge: you honor their knowledge, wisdom, and experience by giving them a symbolic or literal offering. To not so honor one's mentors is to show extreme ingratitude for their teachings, which means that you don't really value them, and probably won't learn anything from them. You wouldn't expect a lawyer to give you the benefit of their years of wisdom and experience for free, so why would you expect that of a spiritual elder? Both may have spent their entire lives in their training and practice, and you went to them precisely because they have done so.

So frak the idea of giving it all away.

Don't ask me to give it away. Don't require me to give it away. If I give it away, it's because I choose to do so.

The choice is mine. How dare you try to take that choice away from me? How dare you try to coerce me into your value and belief system by criticizing mine?

And I won't give away everything I have, or know, for free. For one thing, that dishonors the process of learning I went through to acquire whatever wisdom I might have attained. (Little enough, some days.) Some of it was earned the hard way, through experience. Some of that will not be given away, because I paid a high price to earn it; and giving it away cheapens it.

There's a principle of energy exchange discussed in Reiki training, which I have to come to believe is absolutely necessary to honor, and practice, for the sake of the Reiki work itself at a fundamental level: You cannot and must not give it away, because when someone gets it for free, they don't value it in any way, and they won't get any benefit from it. If you do a Reiki session for someone, and all they can give you is one dollar as a payment, it is essential that they give you that one dollar. Because if they give nothing up, they can easily dismiss what has happened to them, and will not value it, or their own healing process, and so they will not be healed. If you do not honor the healing you have received, and the training lineage of the healer, how can you expect to be healed?

It took me some years to understand this. I used to give it away. I don't anymore. I have lived poor for many years, and many of my friends who wanted a Reiki session from me had no more funds than I. In some cases, we bartered a payment; in others, they were also Reiki practitioners, and we traded Reiki sessions. Other than with other certified Reiki Masters and trainers, I won't do that anymore. It feels like dishonoring my teachers to just give it away; it feels like dishonoring Reiki itself. Let's be absolutely clear about this: If I do a Reiki treatment for you, you must pay me. Period. It can be a tiny amount, and you must still pay me, otherwise there is no energy exchange, and no healing will happen. Paradoxically, the charge for healing is to make sure that the client takes it seriously, rather than goes merrily on their way as though nothing had happened; which they are likely to do if there is no energy exchange.

As a freelance artist, designer, writer, and illustrator, I have sometimes seen the work I did for clients rejected, because they did not like the finished results. (The issue of their unwillingness to work with me, to change it towards what they wanted, is a separate issue; and in several instances, it's because they never told me what they really wanted in the first place, and I was forced to guess, and therefore guessed wrong.) In more than one instance, I had to point out to them, that they are free to throw away everything I did for them, but what they are paying me for was the time and effort I put into their project. They were paying me to work for them, period. They were paying me for the hours I put in on their project, and the skills I spent many years learning—skills they didn't have themselves, because they did not have my training and experience. Which is why they hired me in the first place.

Lots of clients don't understand this very important point: You are not paying for results, you are paying for your freelancer's effort. They are probably as highly trained and skilled as you, and they may have put many hours into the work they did for you. You must pay them for the work they did for you. Period. What you do with that work afterwards is irrelevant, to them, and it should be to you as well.

Paying someone for the work they do for you amounts to expressing gratitude to them in the form of an energy exchange. Many ungrateful managers don't realize how much more their workers would give to them if they expressed simple gratitude, much less respected the worker enough as a person to try to make a fair energy exchange with them.

This is one of the spiritual laws of the Universe: Gratitude is essential. Giving thanks is not something you do once a year, but something you do every moment of every day. Giving thanks comes back to you in so many ways that manifest as many forms of abundance. This was the very simple lesson offered to Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens' A Christmas Carol: Give thanks, or die. Gratitude is what sustains life.

Love is not what makes the world go around, self-esteem is. Without self-esteem there can be no genuine love. And without gratitude, there grows in no heart any genuine self-esteem. It's really very simple: saying Thank you can save a life. It's saved mine, on more than one occasion.

When you hire someone for their knowledge and skill and experience, don't assume they'll give it away for free. Don't ask them to give it away. Don't require them to give it away. Don't make assumptions about their ability or inability to give it away for free. Let them choose, and be grateful for whatever they give you, even if it's not useful to you. Do you respect them only if you can use them? What does that say about your own ethics?

Many writers are nice people, and will give you much more than you asked for, essentially giving you something for nothing, if they like you, and if they like working on your project. But if they give you that extra lagniappe, let it be on their offer, and let it be their choice. Don't assume it, and don't demand it, and don't require it of them. "Mandatory overtime" is an oxymoron.

And for the gods' sakes do not insist that they cannot use the copyright symbol to mark their work, where it's appropriate to do so. Especially if it's one hundred percent their work, and they're sharing it with you. And for the gods' sake give credit where credit is due. Even if you can't pay them for it, don't tell them they can't copyright it.

This is an issue of ethics, honor, respect, and wisdom. Don't pretend it's about anything else. And if you don't think it's about all these things, then you yourself need to ask yourself about your own ethics, honor, ability to show respect, and whether or not you've earned any wisdom, so far, in your own sad, miserable existence. Your actions will give the truth or the lie to all of that.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

I think much of this kind of attitude comes from the casual nature of the Web and blogs in particular. Because anyone anywhere can access what we write for free it's easy to devalue what we find: free = worthless and that's not the case. It may be hard to put a price on what we do here but it's offensive to assume that people can take what we've written and not acknowledge us. I don't have a copyright symbol anywhere on my site and anyone if free to make use of what I've written. It's there to be made use of. And so far no one has ever made use of anything I've written without giving me a nod and I can live with that.

I'm a bit more protective of my creative writing. There are excerpts available to promote what I've written but if you want to possess a copy then I expect to be paid and not just enough to cover the paper, ink and postage. And that's that. Essentially I consider my entire blog promotional material.

I found a copy of that film about Ellison by the way and I agree with him although not as loudly. I'm not opposed to giving away stuff for free but I hate people presuming that I will give the stuff away; that choice is mine.

10:01 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I agree that some of this attitude comes from the ease with which one can move data around on the Web. Cutting and pasting is very easy, of course.

I also agree about the nature and purpose of a blog. In the case of your blog, where you post finished articles, it's more like a magazine than someone's casual public journal, though, so I would hope readers would take the time to cite you as their source should they quote you.

And certainly on one level blogging is giving it away for free, as a kind of promotional process.

But then, like you, I don't give away my creative writing for free. I expect to be paid, similarly, for assignment writing.

I had to chuckle when you said that you agreed with Ellison although not as loudly. That's more or less my reaction as well. I really admire and respect his viewpoint, even though my own style is far less confrontational. (Well, unless I've been pushed over the edge one to many times, which led to my rant here, originally.)

But that's the bottom line: I'm not opposed to giving it away for free, but the choice is ours whether or not we do so, and someone presuming that I will, or SHOULD, is offensive.

11:25 AM  

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