“What inspires you?”
The question from across the dinner table is an invitation to civil conversation — and a challenge.
What, indeed, inspires us?
It seems to me that more people are compelled today than inspired.
Inspiration is fed by higher values. Compulsion is fueled often by fear or ignorance.
The Webster College Dictionary published by Random House defines inspiration as: 1. to fill with an animating, quickening, or exalting influence. Or perhaps this one: 2. to produce or arouse (a feeling, thought, etc.)
To be compelled, on the other hand is defined as forced or driven, as in the context of being urged, to be persuaded or led to do something. Shoved around by outside influences. Peer pressure, fear of being different or an outcast. A need to fit in.
Some people are inspired by stories of redemption; others are compelled to change the way they live or risk sickness and death.
You can be inspired by patriotic music, pomp and ceremony, by stories of heroic acts by soldiers, police officers, fire and rescue workers. Or you may be compelled to act in appropriate ways during formal ceremonies out of an expectation of what constitutes respect.
Being compelled is less noble than being inspired. It’s impulsive and reckless. Inspiration has to take seed within and grow and last and produce something.
I’ve been compelled to show respect for military officers because I served in uniform. That service does not in itself make be patriotic. On fewer occasions I was inspired by the love of country displayed through the words and actions of senior officers, or by the behavior of people regardless of rank or status. Love has high expectations, hopes. It can be expressed by taking a knee when everyone else is standing.
As an employee, I was sometimes compelled to follow the instructions of superiors whose ethics and judgment were questionable. On occasion, I have been inspired to quit working in such an environment and regain my self-direction.
Inspiration often comes to me in quiet moments. Not in the hubbub of jet planes roaring by in a flyover at a sports event, but in a clip on the evening news of a soldier plucking a child, perhaps a child of an enemy, out of the line of fire.
Many who are inspired by the lyrics of Lee Greenwood’s song, “Proud to be an American” seem to have taken it on as a new anthem, and a rallying call for building walls of all kinds.
Walls don’t inspire me. I’m inspired by the words of Emma Lazarus inscribed on the Statue of Liberty — “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Sincerity inspires me; compassion, selflessness, and generosity inspire our better selves.
So, I am compelled to stand up and speak out against the official government policies of coarseness and hypocrisy, obstruction, corruption and lies.
The daily facts and the mindless dismissal of the consequences of a failing leadership compel me to stand up and speak out against the erosion of all that is good about people and our nation formed as a haven for the ideals of equal opportunity and justice.
We can’t be silent amidst the chaos of self-serving braggadocio and coarse bullying and malicious intent.
Yes, the dialog is overheated. We’ve seen the ugly emergence of deeply tamped fear and anger before, seen the flares of riots and wars and even genocide when the dogs of malice and revenge are let loose.
Some will always be loyal to even the darkest lure.
I’m sometimes inspired by loyalty, but I am compelled to speak an old truth, wrapped in a fable: The kid was right when he stopped going along with the crowd and said what everyone knew.
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