I just watched an ingenious Ted talk by Stella Young. Everyone should watch this video, and I do mean EVERYONE (and everyone includes you, dear readers, as I am going to ramble on about it for the next few minutes of your coffee break).
I have a confession to make: I think the word inspirational has morphed into a phenomenon where people don’t even know what the word means anymore. I say this because I have been called inspirational, oh, probably fifty+ times in my lifetime. Not only is that a whole lot of pressure to live up to, but it’s also somewhat of a mind bender because I really haven’t done anything in my life that is inspirational.
You might say, though, “Of course you have! You’ve gone to university, you’re getting you’re Masters, you live on your own…not many people who are disabled can say that!” And you would be right. But just because I am disabled and have done all those things doesn’t necessarily mean that they are any harder for a disabled person to do them than a nondisabled person.
I’ve always found that the word inspirational is currently (and, I would argue, wrongly) used as a means of creating distance between yourself and who you are referring to as inspirational. The typical sentiment usually amounts to something like, “You are so inspirational, I could never be as (fill in the blank; some go-to adjectives are usually brave, courageous, etc.) as you.” But all that really does is say, “good on you for doing something I would never want to be in the place of doing in the first place.” And that can leave one feeling pretty shitty.
A good gauge I’ve found in figuring out what’s inspirational or not – especially when addressing someone who’s disabled – is to ask yourself, “Would I use the same measure of inspiration with one of my friends, or my family, or my boss, that I would with a disabled person?” If the answer is no, then you might want to reconsider your comment.
I’m really not trying to bash inspiration. Inspiration can be wonderful and immensely fruitful at times. All I am suggesting people do is have a long hard think about why they might classify someone as inspirational and, perhaps most importantly, only use the word when the occasion is truly warranted. If the reason is based primarily on the fact that that person is disabled, or in some other way defies the norm, then they aren’t really being inspirational; they’re merely working with what they have. Working with what you’ve been given shouldn’t make one praise-worthy; it’s called living your life.
“…frankly, I’m not inspirational. I’m damn boring, if you ask me, which you rarely do. I worry about paying the rent, eating too much chocolate, and finding telltale wrinkles – sound inspirational yet?” Harilyn Rousso, Don’t Call me Inspirational