I looked up the definition of inspire today. I wanted to know, if I were to answer the question, “Who inspires you?” that I knew precisely what question I was answering.
Before looking it up, I had two thoughts about what it means to feel inspired. The first is an onrush of awe and a sense of enormous potential. That kind of inspiration comes with a feeling of tapping into to the divine, and it fills me with gratitude and wonder.
I wasn’t sure if that’s actually inspiration, though, because it doesn’t necessarily come with any sort of change after it happens. For a question like, “Who inspires you?” I thought inspiration might not be what I was thinking at first — a feeling of awe and beauty and wonder — but instead that it should include an element of action. If someone inspires me, it seems like they should make me change my behavior.
It turns out that inspiration is both of those things:
in·spire v. 1. To affect, guide, or arouse by divine influence. 2. To fill with enlivening or exalting emotion. 3.a. To stimulate to action; motivate. b. To affect or touch.The American Heritage College Dictionary Third Edition
So, that’s not helpful! Except in the sense that it bought me some time because I’m really terrible at answering questions like “what’s your favorite” or “who inspires you.”
For the first type of inspiration, the one that fills with enlivening or exalting emotion, creators inspire me. Being moved by beauty or excellence is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and people who create are my heroes. When I experience an exquisite work of fiction, painting, cinema, drama, musical composition, songwriting, photography, writing, or comedy, I am filled with wonder. Artists inspire me. They help me see the glory of the human mind and how we fit in with each other and with the world.
For the second type of inspiration, the one that stimulates action and motivates, this one is as important as the first, but in a completely different way. People who spark change lead by example; they are role models simply by existing in the world and being who they are. They exhibit behaviors we can observe, be affected by, see the consequences of, and then emulate ourselves. I have dozens of role models who are close to me in my life who inspire me in this way. I will not name them here because the list would be too long, and each person inspires different parts of my behavior: humor, humility, candor, tact, communication.
But the people closest to me, the ones who live in my house with me, and who I’m lucky enough to have in my life on a daily basis, are the ones who inspire me most. My husband inspires kindness and generosity. Our kids inspire humor and honesty. All three of them motivate me to be a better person. And when I say inspire in this case, I mean that every day, I edit my behavior to act differently and better because of them.