I don’t have a catchy title for this post. I tried to come up with one, but the question says all it needs to by itself. What place does inspiration have in your life if you have a disability, and what do you do with it?
As we know, people’s attitudes toward inspiration has tainted it for persons with disabilities. We’ve talked a lot on this blog about inspiration discrimination, where PWDs are used for the media’s gain or where PWDs are lauded as inspirational for doing things other people do every day (“You’re so brave to go out in public!”) Examples like these can make you feel like you never want to hear the word “inspiration” again. I know because that’s how I feel. It can certainly make you feel like you never want to be called an inspiration. It seems that in today’s world, inspiration has been reduced to a form of sugar-coated, well-meant, and sometimes condescending exploitation. It’s the temporarily able-bodied population’s way of dealing with disabilities from a distance so they don’t have to get involved, get messy–truly know and understand the person whom the disability is only part of.
Yet are we being fair to inspiration? Can it be a good thing, and if so, how can PWDs and their temporarily able-bodied counterparts turn it around? Should we even try?
I believe we should try and that inspiration can be good. Part of that comes from my occupation as a writer. I talk about being inspired to write novels, novellas, blog posts, even Facebook posts. Writers go looking for inspiration–their muses if you will–when they get stuck. A written work, a piece of art, or a song is described as “inspired” if it stirs great feeling in the person who encounters it. In many religious circles, “inspired” or “inspiration” is a high compliment because it means whatever you’ve said, done, or made comes from and is approved by God. Second Timothy 3:16 tells us that Scripture is “God-inspired” or “God-breathed.”
The origin of the word “inspiration” is from an Old Latin word, inspiratio. That comes from the verb inspirare, which was translated down through Old French and English to become our words “inspire” and “inspiration.” “Inspire” means “to fill someone with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially something creative.”
Here’s the cool part: a secondary definition of this word simply says “breathe.” Did you notice the “spir” in the middle of “inspiration?” Yup, it’s where we get words like “spirit,” or “respiratory.” See the connection? “Inspiration” refers to the spirit–the breath, the passion, inside of you that drives you to do and feel great things and to create. Whether you believe in God or not is none of my business, but I will put it this way: “inspiration” is a divine breath on you that allows you to do, feel, and create on a level beyond what humans normally experience.
So essentially, inspiration is evidence of the divine. It is one of God’s signs that He is with us, that He sees us and wants us to interact with the world and spread good news and goodwill in a world that is extremely dark. So then how can inspiration be bad?
As we’ve discussed, inspiration becomes negative when it’s twisted for other people’s agendas or when it’s misappropriated to make people feel less than human. One would think that, with its superhuman quality, inspiration couldn’t make you feel less than human. But how do you think little Phillip feels when somebody walks by him and says something like,
“Oh, Phillip, I love that you play soccer even though you’re blind. You’re such an inspiration to us all.”
Or when Chavah, who happens to have a prosthetic leg, plays the violin beautifully and somebody says,
“Your playing is such an inspiration, Chavah. You remind us not to give up on our dreams just because life is hard.”
Okay, yes, those things are probably true. It’s also difficult for a PWD like me to know what to say to those comments because others really are trying to be nice. I’d a thousand times rather be called an inspiration than a cripple or a useless eater. The problem is, constantly being called an inspiration puts positive, but unrealistic expectations on the person with a disability. I don’t know about you, but there are days I don’t feel like inspiring anybody. There are days when, just like the rest of humanity, I want to lock myself in my room with M&Ms and a bunch of Touched by an Angel or Monk reruns and tell the world to go suck an egg. (Insert your favorite TV binge and snack here). And I’m sorry, but unless it is truly all you can do, feeding yourself, dressing yourself, and taking care of your own bathroom needs is not inspiring. It is NORMAL.
So, what should PWDs and their temporarily able-bodied contemporaries do with this phenomenon called inspiration? As I said, I don’t think we should chuck it out the window. Inspiration is good at its core. So what we should do, I think, is get rid of all the connotations and implications we’ve attached to it and get back to the core. That is, yes, allow PWDs to be inspiring. Tell them they are inspiring. But let them inspire you based upon strengths, gifts, and innate positive traits–not because of what they don’t have and the “brave struggles” they’re allegedly experiencing. Praise Phillip, Chavah, and kids like them for the soccer and violin-playing, not their ability to cope with life. Coping with life is just part of living. If you handle inspiration this way, you will send the message that PWDs have strengths, value, and a place in your society–whether that’s society at large or on a smaller scale like your school, house of worship, or club. I think that’s a much better message than one that says, “You were created to be a mascot, to show people that they can be perfect and perpetually happy if they only try.”
With that: whether you have a disability or not–go inspire someone today. If you’re having trouble, ask the divine for help. God will invigorate, inspire, and fill with life all who ask.