Inspirational vs Motivational

Inspirational tweet:  “Stop wishing and start willing.”                                                             Response to tweet:  “I will college was free.” *

A few days ago, I read these tweets and moved on. But I keep thinking back on them with a chuckle.

I’m pretty much over my “inspirational quotes” phase. These days, I am likely to sigh heavily and skip them. Even when a friend I know is quite earnest reposts or retweets them, I might mutter, “yeah, right”. Often, I find myself wanting to make a clever response (such as the one above) or perhaps launch into a diatribe about why that particular quote is insipid or too Pollyanna-ish.

Usually, I am able to refrain from raining on someone else’s positivity parade. The reason for this is that I’m not actually against inspiration – I can be happy when others find it in a snappy, clever sentence. In fact, I seek inspiration in life as much as the next person. Lord knows (and so do you if you read this blog) I’m not against finding inspiration in pithy or meaningful quotes. However, more and more I find, that inspiration comes to me in less easily digestible platitudes. And forget the haranguing pep-talkers who string them together into long paragraphs that seem to shout at me “BE INSPIRED, DAMMIT!”

I follow a former student of mine on FB and Instagram. I read everything she posts, even (maybe especially) the really long stories. I always come away feeling inspired. She writes from the depth of her heart about raising her six adopted kids, her experiences as a foster mom, her fierce love and joy amidst the chaos and exhaustion of everyday life. Her very real experiences and thoughts are so much more heartening and energizing to me than an impersonal adage.

I am inspired when people I respect share themselves authentically. I am inspired when people who have accomplished something I admire them for or wish I could emulate, show that they are imperfect and vulnerable too. I’m less inspired when someone goes all Vince Lombardi on me in order to light a fire under my feet.

In much the same way that I have had my inspirational meme phase and passed through to the other side, I admit I am moving past my political meme fascination as well. For a time, since the last election, I was delighted to come upon a list of witty protest sign slogans or humorous (even shocking) tweets that encapsulated someone’s political bent – especially if it happened to match how I am bent.

I am finding it much harder, as time goes on, to find relief in these mini-position statements. Yesterday, I woke to the news of that horrible high-rise apartment fire in London, then to the shooting of congressmen on a Virginia baseball diamond. The news all day was horrific or glum or demoralizing. One item after another in a ghastly line. On such a day, what feeling person could truly take joy in snippy one-liners?

Just before bed, I happened to be online trying to track down some information for a project I am doing at work, and I came across the following quote from Lynne Twist, activist and author.

“Many social justice or social activist movements have been rooted in a position. A position is usually against something. Any position will call up its opposition. If I say up, it generates down. If I say right, it really creates left. If I say good, it creates bad. So a position creates its opposition. A stand is something quite distinct from that.

There are synonyms for “stand” such as “declaration” or “commitment,” but let me talk for just a few moments about the power of a stand. A stand comes from the heart, from the soul. A stand is always life affirming. A stand is always trustworthy. A stand is natural to who you are. When we use the phrase “take a stand” I’m really inviting you to un-cover, or “unconceal,” or recognize, or affirm, or claim the stand that you already are. “

What struck me about this quotation, is that it differentiates between two concepts that are sometimes used interchangeably but which, as she points out, are actually quite different. I found myself looking at my own political biases, and hoping I can be someone who takes a stand, and not someone who continues to set up the push-pull dichotomy of taking positions. I know what I stand for, but do I articulate that so others know? Or do I just contribute to the right/left/right/wrong/up/down/red/blue tug of war?

As I thought about this concept of “position” versus “stand” , I realized that the same kind of differentiation can be made between “inspirational” versus “motivational”. Suddenly, it became clear that I’ve been conflating the two.

“Motivational” wills me to do something, pushes me toward achievement. “Inspirational” fills me with spirit. The first is about doing, the second about being. At this point in my life, I am less taken with words (and the people who utter them) about motivating or pushing me. In my mid-50s, I hope my greatest motivators are intrinsic. If I’m seeking motivation externally (on Twitter, for example) I’m probably truly struggling.

On the other hand, I hope I am never too old to be en-spirited – whether by the spirit of love, or grace, or mercy or kindness. Authentic words (and the people who utter them) about sharing real struggles and victories will continue to touch me deeply – will continue to inspire me.



*Sorry, I didn’t take note of whose tweets they were, and I couldn’t find them when I went back to Twitter.


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