Misattributions – Good Or Bad?

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Today, I want to focus on misattributions, that is, situations where we attribute an idea to the wrong source.

I was listening to news recently and they were speaking about the beautiful new US stamp, produced as an homage to the life and work of Maya Angelou.

It's wonderful and meaningful to see a poet and thinker recognized this way, yet the quote that they chose to go along with the photo of Maya Angelou is not her own quote!!!

They misattributed the quote.


“A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”

This inspiring quote was often cited by the late poet, yet we know now that it was written by another writer Joan Walsh Anglund in 1967.

Maya Angelou never claimed authorship for the quotation, she use it often because it’s a really powerful sentence.

The US Post Office should have done their homework and checked in which publication that quote was printed, not waited until the stamp was published to discover their mistake.

At least now we know about another inspiring women writer, Joan Walsh Anglund, who now has a Wikipedia entry thanks to this misattribution.

Another Example…

Another example of a misattribution – with a very a happy ending – regards this powerful poem:

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

This “Anyway” quote is often attributed to Mother Teresa because a version of this poem was written on a wall in Mother Teresa's home for children in Calcutta, yet this is a misattribution.

These Paradoxical Commandments were originally written by Kent M. Keith in 1968 as part of a booklet for student leaders.

Because of this misattribution, Kent M. Keith was inspired to publish a beautiful book called “Do It Anyway: The Handbook for Finding Personal Meaning and Deep Happiness in a Crazy World.

Here is an interview with the author:

So, what’s the moral of the story?

Yes, before publishing anything writers should do their homework and check their sources. Yet, as this podcast has illustrated several times, it’s easy to make mistakes and misattributions too.

My thinking is that when misattributions are corrected, that can be a beautiful opportunity to learn more.

We will make mistakes, attribute ideas to the wrong sources, and hopefully someone will catch them, call our attention to them, and we will be able to correct them. The possibility of misattribution should not stop us to put our work out there into the world – do it anyway.