In Sweden, where I guest lecture at a University and give the occasional public talk, attendees to my “wisdom” often describe me as an “inspirational speaker”. I usually laugh embarrassedly at this, mumble something or other that denies it flatly, and quickly change the subject. I know that the Swedes often use this description, and actually look for “inspirational” speakers quite extensively.
But the latest such compliment by a student a few days ago set me thinking about what makes for inspiration.
And here I do not mean the high-flown poetic variety, tragedy-driven and egged along by mythological, Greek women deities, but rather that subtle something that someone says that changes the way we think or feel. It is such a precious moment that happens so quietly at times that we almost miss it, but feel it inside like a little motor, fuelling the very essence of being.
Inspiration can, of course, be found in obvious sources. The late, much mourned, Fr Peter, for example, would inspire me whenever he spoke … drive me on to creativity that might have slept on had he not encouraged with a word, massaged a saddened ego with a compliment, analysed with incredible, learned depth the implications of whatever it was he was inspiring.
Inspiration can be found in the throwaway words of a blog (not this one), or an aphorism, inserted almost unthinkingly into a long, meandering conversation.
Inspiration can be anything and everything, though any charm and charisma wielded by the inspirer go quite a long way towards digging into the character-set, deeply ingrained and (we think, till we’re inspired to think otherwise) totally immovable.
And then there are, of course, those who are the antithesis of inspiration. The bullies with an agenda that self-serves in everything they do, and floods all their interactions with others. We know them very well, of course. At work, in society, in politics … people who act as dampers of inspiration, their very presence and their bland, precise, egotistical words (often sugary and creamy though they might be) seeding darkness and the blocking of promise even in the most promising of creative urges.
This is where I pause to shudder violently for a while.
So, I suppose, I should at least be happy not to be considered a part of this last category. And if at any point in time, as a lecturer, or as a writer, or even as a cartoonist, I’ve touched lives with anything that provoked a positive thought, then I find that to be more inspirational to myself than anything else I might have done in life.