Are you an inspiration?

For many reasons, I have been ignoring the Intentional Blogging Challenge tasks since last Friday. I have been reading posts from other participants and thinking about my own responses to the challenges. Saturday’s challenge – to write a confessional post – has been a struggle for me. Then this morning I posted a question on my Facebook page and the responses from my friends provided the push I needed to tackle the task.

To understand my confession, it may help to see the question which inspired this post:

How come I can be grateful and appreciative when a young woman with a disability calls me an inspiration but when able bods do, I squirm?

So – here’s my confession. I want to be an accepting, humble, grateful person but when able-bodied strangers call me an inspiration I rush to judgement without giving them the benefit of the doubt. I internally roll my eyes, assuming they find me inspiring because of my disability rather than taking the time to question them about their statement. I close myself off to a possible dialogue or gift of connection with another because it is easier to group that stranger with those who give compliments to make themselves feel better instead of taking the time to learn why they blessed me with such praise. I am a skeptic.

My point in asking the question was not to doubt the sincerity of those who offer the compliment to me. I want to believe the positive intent of those who say it. I am truly humbled if a stranger finds something in my actions from which to draw strength. However, I’m not living my life to be an inspiration to anyone. I’m living my life in a manner authentic and honest to me. If my actions have an impact on others, great. It’s not why I do what I do.

I never had women role/roll models who were adults with disabilities living self-determined lives. So, when young women with disabilities say I inspire them, I can easily understand why. I’m doing what they hope to do. I don’t want to be an inspiration to the able-bods just because of my chair, so I squirm. I question the intention rather than accepting the compliment with gratitude.

Haven’t we all met people and questioned the motives behind their actions? Various media markets tell of celebrities endorsing this charity or that group, donating to benefit a cause or working with a humanitarian organization. While I want to believe the best in others, sometimes I wonder if they are in it because they truly believe in the mission. Or, are they hoping the extra publicity will sell more books, albums, tickets?

When we rush to judgement, we lose the chance for meaningful discussion. If we automatically assume negativity, we never have the opportunity to be blessed with insight about ourselves.

This morning my able-bodied friends forced me to look at my question from their point of view. They were kind, offering words of admiration I was not seeking and reminding me how much I miss when I am quick to project negative intent instead of merely being grateful. Here’s what I learned from my friends:

  • I am not alone in feeling unworthy of praise or admiration.
  • Gratitude doesn’t just happen without some internal cultivation. If we aspire to be grateful, we should ask ourselves why we feel we are not worthy of a compliment given with good intentions by others.
  • Humor is individualistic and even when we think we are being clear sometimes a joke falls flat or offends others who don’t understand the back-story. It doesn’t mean the one making the joke is a bad person or uncaring.
  • When we diagnose the motives of others without knowing their background or the experiences which have colored the lenses they use to view the world, we are often wrong.
  • Despite my experiences with strangers who (obviously) see my differences right away, those who know me don’t consider my disability when viewing my accomplishments or calling me inspirational. (Why do I continue to assume this of strangers?!)
  • Asking questions can foster discussions and growth if we are willing to listen to the answers thoughtfully in our attempts to reach understanding.

Today I was inspired by my friends who took the time to share their views and their passions. As a writer who still struggles to peel back the layers and expose her vulnerabilities, their willingness to share their words in writing gave me the courage to spend my lunch break writing this post. While I may continue to struggle when others call me inspirational, I will try not to rush to judgement and indignation. And when I offer the word to others as a compliment, I will tell them why in case they are internally rolling their own eyes.

How about you? Are you an inspiration to others? What can you do to help serve as an inspiration to those in your world? Please share your thoughts and comments below!

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12 thoughts on “Are you an inspiration?

  1. Great post. I had difficulty with this challenge as well, for similar reasons. When someone sees the good/inspiring side of me, my first thought is “if only you knew the OTHER side of me.” We are in constant need of giving the glory to God for the good seen in us and seeking Him to change the not so good into the image of His dear Son. (hmmmm…blog post brewing)

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  2. The best one yet! You inspire me because it has taken me a lot longer to get to the point of this self-reflection. And I don’t think I would be able to so eloquently express it.

    Love you.

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    • Susan – you inspire me because you have always selflessly given of your wisdom and talents to help make a difference in the lives of children. The impact you have had on others is measured by the children you have taught. And, you make the best molasses sugar cookies EVER! Mine never turn out the same.

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  3. I only know you online, so the admiration I feel for you has nothing to do with your physical limitations. I don’t see you as a disabled person. I connect with your heart and your writing. There are a handful of people I have really connected with in the writer’s challenge and you are one of them. But if I had crossed paths with you in some other way and I knew nothing deeper about you, I might admire you for what I “could” see. And I don’t think that would diminish you simply because there is more to you than what I could see in that moment.

    Although it would never occur to me to say “you inspire me” to someone I didn’t know simply because of a physical disability, I have silently, internally felt great admiration for complete strangers when it was obvious they were not defined by a physical limitation and were meeting their challenges head on; living a full, productive, independent life. Maybe the reason I find it inspiring has everything to do with the reality that I haven’t faced a similar challenge and I don’t know how well I would handle it. I know I can’t begin to imagine the challenges you meet daily. So I am in awe. I saw a veteran on Ellen today who lost an arm and a leg in combat. He talked about the depression he went through before he turned his outlook around. And then he amazed the audience (and me) by doing pushups with his one arm and one leg as if it was absolutely no big deal. I know there is much, much more to this guy than his ability to do pushups. But what I did see impressed me and inspired me because it said something about his grit and determination to live life to the fullest. His pushups were symbolic of his spirit. And I admired him even though I don’t really know him. It wasn’t about me. It wasn’t about feeling better about myself. And it wasn’t patronizing. It was genuine and heartfelt.

    I have had people tell me I’m inspiring. I don’t think it’s because I’m an extraordinary person. I think it’s usually because I have survived abuse and have used my experiences to reach out and help others. There’s more to me than the wounds I have overcome. But I don’t mind being admired for the challenges I’ve handled well. And I like hearing that I’ve inspired someone in their journey. Whatever that looks like and whatever part of me or my life does that for someone is the insignificant part to me.

    I have also fallen behind in the more recent assignments. It’s partly because we had a trip planned before I ever joined the challenge. And I have not made time for writing. But it’s also because the most recent challenges involving confession and vulnerability are routine for me. I’ve written countless confessional posts. I’m completely comfortable confessing. 😉

    This is the second time I’ve written a lengthy comment here. The first time, my iPad just locked up and I couldn’t post it after I’d written it. I copied the text and intended to paste it back into the comment box. But after I refreshed the page, I lost the clipboard content. I think I probably articulated my thoughts a little better the first time, but it is what it is. I couldn’t go to bed without responding tonight. This was a really good post. I never would have imagined a compliment triggering an eye roll this way, but you have helped me understand your perspective with this post.

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    • Shari – thank you for your thoughtful and honest response. I appreciate you taking the time to type it all out (twice!) and share it. Your ability to be honest and vulnerable inspires me to keep digging and searching, examining what it is I’m really scared of. The answer isn’t always pretty, as in the realization that I’m quick to judge others rather than assuming good intentions. I promise to work on my eye rolls!

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  4. Once you described to me how you handled physical limitations. You said that when you were not able to do something that you had previously been able to do because of the progression of your condition (reach something on a shelf), you threw yourself a quick pity party and moved on. That little story has stayed with me all these years because it is an inspiration to everyone, able bodied or not, of how to not dwell on things you cannot change. Your posts and blog help me examine my own attitudes in my interactions with people and are a reminder of the importance of a “person first” perspective when engaging with others with or without a visible disability.

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    • Thank you for sharing that memory Anna. I still try to keep the pity party contained because dwelling on something you can’t control is a waste of energy. I’m honored my writing can serve as a reminder for you, and I’m glad you put it into practice in your daily life. You are influencing many and your treatment of those you serve will help them develop positive attitudes of their own.

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