Monday, May 25, 2009

Inspired or Intimidated?

When my son was six, he started taking violin lessons. His teacher suggested that we take him to a concert at which young award-winners of some sort would be performing. We listened to a little boy who was already an accomplished violinist at the age of 5 - a year younger than our 6 year old beginner. Did the 6 year old run home to practice harder, feeling that "if he can do it, I can do it?" Nope. He just felt overwhelmed by the gulf between where he was and where he wanted to be.

That's the problem with many great models of achievement. They are only inspirational if, in some way, we relate to the central character. We have to think, "if she can do, maybe I can do it." Often we think, "She is amazing. I could never do that." We walk away impressed with the talent of some rare human being, and less impressed with our own abilities.

I suppose that's why people with a physical handicap to overcome often make good models of inspiration. While we might not be able to take ourselves seriously as models of virtue or skill or knowledge, we do acknowledge that life is probably easier for us if we have all our senses and body parts functioning normally. When we hear that a blind person has climbed a mountain, we think: maybe we could climb too since we have sight as an edge. The handicap functions like a handicap in golf - a way of leveling the playing field between us and the person we admire.

Who inspires you? Take a moment and think carefully about when you have experienced a state of inspiration. Maybe you have only had a mild case of inspiration - a time when you were more likely to do something well (or good) because someone else did it first. A time when you felt hope and momentum because of something someone else achieved. Got it?

Now look at who you were when you were inspired and look at the person who inspired you. List five ways (or three or nine) that those two people are similar. If you have to be very general, be very general: we are both adult women who live in Canada and write in the 21st century. Then ask yourself, can I be more specific about any of this?

Now look at a situation where you would like to inspire someone else. Ask yourself: how can I create a relationship between that person and an inspiring role model that is parallel to my relationship with the person who inspired me? Don't look for the biggest, boldest, most dramatic example. Look for the example that matches the pattern you discover within your own experience.

That's quite often really good advice.

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