In my opinion, it’s the difference between temporarily moving people to buy or do something, often for good, but not making it become their way of life. Inspiration is a catalyst to change lives and worlds.
I would like my students (and me!) to become adept at inspiring, even more than persuading audiences, yet how do we know when we’ve moved beyond persuading? Our textbook gives an example of a sales manager introducing the advantages and potential of a new product, and calls it both inspirational and persuasive. I disagree! I only see it as persuasive. So what is inspiration?
I’ve been thinking about this question ever since Kendra, one of my students, asked about the difference when I proposed an inspirational speech for this final week of class. For examples, I showed excerpts from the park scene in “Good Will Hunting”) where Robin Williams tells off young Matt Damon; and a reading by Stacyann Chin of Marge Piercy’s The low road in the documentary, The People Speak. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zveWE6I3M2g
Not all my students experienced the degree of inspiration I did when observing these scenes. I responded with a sense that I could do things I haven’t yet done, understand things that were previously a mystery. It wasn’t about just doing what someone else recommended or accepting someone else’s beliefs—that is what I would call being persuaded. No, I WANTED to do something that would make a difference to others and to embrace insights that would make me different. And the feeling that I wanted to do and be more hasn’t left me.
What causes us to grasp a broader view of what is desirable and possible? My pondering has yielded only two requirements for being inspired: an emotionally charged message (conveyed through rhythmic words and if spoken, confirmed by body language) and disclosure of a bit of transcendent mystery through the openness (vulnerability) of the one sharing. Poets, writers, and musicians sometimes do this. Their inspiring songs and stories touch us in deep places.
How can we be an inspiration to those around us? I’m not sure, but I’ll be looking for examples. What/who has inspired you? Please add your ideas and experiences to this continuing conversation.