Thursday, July 28, 2011


Sree responded to yesterday's post, Whom Did You Thank?, with the following observation/question:
Ooh, great questions, Tef. Especially the inspire one. I wonder - how does one inspire? I think I do encourage, but inspire? Hmmm...
I found several definitions of the word, inspire
  1. Fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, esp. to do something creative
  2. Create (a feeling, esp. a positive one) in a person, e.g., their past record does not inspire confidence
  3. Animate someone with (such a feeling), e.g., he inspired his students with a vision of freedom
The definitions I found for encourage were similar, so similar that one might consider the words synonyms.

So, I thought about my experiences of being inspired and being encouraged, and I came up with these distinctions:
  1. To encourage is to deliberately offer someone support, confidence or hope.

    To inspire is a side-effect of something you're already doing; there isn't necessarily an intention to inspire.

  2. Encouragement supports existing endeavors.

    Inspiration results in new endeavors.

  3. To encourage is an activity that is focused on the one being encouraged.

    Inspiration is an activity focused on the one inspring.

  4. You can't own the outcome of your encouraging; people will take it or leave it.

    You rarely think about the outcome of your inspiring; people often take it without you even knowing about it.

I don't know how these distinctions would line up with formal linguistic analysis, but they work for me. We encourage people when we see them doing something we'd like to see more of. We inspire people when they see us doing something, they'd like to do themselves.

Most of us are more encouraging than inspiring. It's not for lack of material. We don't share; we hide our lights beneath bushel baskets.
We don't share because of context, e.g., I don't tell people at work about my home life or my hobbies.

We don't share because we take it for granted, e.g., Sure I work out every day, doesn't everyone?

We don't share because we consider ourselves not to be inspirational, e.g., Last thing I want is for people at work to come and hear me sing at church.

We don't share because it will put us on the hook, e.g., If I tell someone I'm writing a novel, then she's gonna ask me about it every day.
Yet much of what we do, others would find inspiring.

One of the most inspirational people I know is Iris. My metric for inspiration is the number of people who tell me how she's inspired them. Iris is not what you would call an encouraging person; she rarely if ever voices encouragement and she often gets annoyed when others try to encourage her (it's as though they were telling her what to do.) However, Iris routinely takes on activities that inspire others. Her running has inspired others to new ideas about exercise and self-care. Her drumming has inspired others to play. Her writing has inspired others to write.

Surely others run, and others drum and others write. So why is Iris so inspirational? I think it comes down to three factors:
  1. Iris takes on new endeavors matter-of-factly. She doesn't indulge in the ritual of "Oh, I wonder if I can really do it?" She doesn't seek encouragement. She just decides and starts.
  2. Iris shares her new endeavors openly and doesn't worry about ridicule or appropriateness or success
  3. Iris concludes before starting that she'll be successful, even if she has no idea as to how.
  4. Iris follows through on her intentions, but not always.
  5. Iris doesn't let the times that she doesn't follow through mean anything.
  6. Iris shares her successes and failures openly.

OK, that's my thought process. So Sree, perhaps the only requirement to inspire is to share what you aree already doing or have done?

Happy Thursday,

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