Friday, June 10, 2011

Thoughts on Forgiveness

One of my former students recently contacted me to help her polish some application materials for grad school.  Let's call her Girl A.  I went through the paper she sent me, making small notes of grammar errors, spelling errors, wrong word choices, and confusing passages.  When I got to the end of the paper, the last line concluded the paper with a rather awkward English phrase that immediately caught my attention. I knew I had seen that strange wording before.

So I pulled up a different student's (Girl B's) personal statement, which I helped her edit in the fall.  The last sentence was exactly the same.  Then I read the papers side by side.  The title was the same.  The introduction had several identical sentences.  The conclusion was almost an exact copy.  In fact, with the exception of about two paragraphs, the papers were basically paraphrases of each other.  Plus, they both made claims that could only possibly be true for one of them (for example, each claiming the top score in a class they took together).

Grrr.  I am so sick of plagiarism, and of the notion that it's OK to cheat to get ahead.

I e-mailed both girls, pointing out the problem and reminding them that their future success in grad school depends on them being able to produce original work.

Within an hour, Girl B, the one I edited last semester, called me in tears.  She had no idea how this could have happened, and guessed that Girl A had sneakily copied the personal statement from her external hard drive, since they are roommates and good friends.  She didn't even know that another student had access to her paper.

Then I felt awful, and wondered if I had somehow inadvertently ruined a friendship.  I talked to Girl B about forgiving her friend, even though it wrong to steal the paper, and we talked about Jesus's teaching of "turning the other cheek."

Last night I got an e-mail from Girl A, the offender.  She briefly apologized, then said some things about how busy she had been and didn't have time to write the paper, and then she surprised me by trying to explain it all away.  She said she had once read her friend's personal statement a few months ago, and must have "unconsciously" remembered some of the beautiful phrases.  I looked at both papers side by side once again.  There is no possible way her story could be true.

Grrr.  I hate being lied to.

What has surprised me about this experience is how much I felt my annoyance mounting with each new offense.  By the end of last night, I hardly had a charitable thought in my heart toward this girl.  First you steal your friend's paper, then copy it, then waste my time editing it, then lie about it?  How dare you!

The truth is that Girl B had a much more gracious response than I did.  She agreed that she would try to forgive this girl, and said she didn't plan to tell other students because she didn't want to hurt her friend's reputation.

The truth is that I offend God more often and in more serious ways, and I come back with equally flimsy excuses.  And He still forgives me.  I am reminded of how great His love and patience is.

"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." -Colossians 3:13

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