This week I have been working on an assignment at Force Academy titled “Real Heroes” for which the instructions were to give a detailed account of individuals that I found to be inspiring. Initially, I was going to take the cliché route and detail people of note: Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Teresa, Jesus of Nazareth, etc. Then, I thought I might bring it a little closer to home: citing parents, teachers, and friends. In the end, I determined that I will be my own inspiration.
What’s the problem with looking outside for sources of inspiration?
We don’t really know the person we are admiring
Unless we stalk the person we admire day and night, what we see is a “public mask”. We hope that the public mask is as close to the authentic person as possible, but it is inevitable that there will be some major differences between what the person presents to you and who they really are. This is true for professionals, friends and family.
This is even worse when we look at public figures whose images are filtered through their own public relations teams and the media. There is an agenda behind every book, every article, every interview, every speech, etc. because they have an image to uphold. We as their adoring public expect certain behavior from them particularly if we admire them. Behavior outside of that norm is not treated as a regular occurrence, but an anomaly. Even if the mountain of evidence becomes great, we hold out hope that the person is admirable.
What we see is also filtered by our own biases
It is said that a snap judgement is made on a first impression in an instant and there are many things that go into a creating a first impression: appearance, tone, body language, deportment, etc. We scan for all of these things unconsciously based on what we have learned from society and our own experiences. Many times we are not aware that we have certain biases that color our first impressions of individuals. As well, there is the matter of others making the first introduction. “I’d like you to meet my friend Sally, she’s really (insert a laundry list of excellent qualities making sure to avoid those annoying habits)”. Then of course the first impression is colored by the friend’s impression of the person which just makes for a really huge mess. It isn’t much different if you are “introduced” to a well-known and admired public person. The snap judgement is still made, the biases are still there and we are caught in the same trap.
Isn’t it a little egotistical to be one’s own inspiration?
It could be seen as such, but I don’t believe it is. In fact, I think it’s a very mature stand to take. As I have explained, because of the lack of knowledge and our own biases which color the way we see people, we aren’t really admiring or drawing inspiration from the authentic person, but an illusion created in some ways by them and in some ways by ourselves. If it’s a little egotistical to say “I am my own inspiration” then don’t say it. Just do it. Just be it. Now, finally after all this time I understand Jiddu Krishnamurti when he says that there can be no master, no teacher, no method, that we have to be a light unto ourselves in Freedom from the Known. We can either be a light unto ourselves or chase an illusion and frankly I prefer the first.
What are the benefits of being your own inspiration?
I’ve thought long about this, and so far I can cite three benefits of internal inspiration:
Seeing the self as a source of inspiration can provide tremendous empowerment. When you reach inside and find historical examples of admirable qualities within yourself, I believe you are more likely to exhibit those qualities, not only that but you will find other qualities to embody. This is all about self-talk. When we say negative things to ourselves such as “I am never good enough, smart enough, good-looking enough, etc.” our body and mind conform to that. But, when we are our own inspiration, certainly it may take some searching, but we can find those qualities and we can say to ourselves “I am smart enough, I am good enough, I have self-worth, etc.” then, miracle of miracles, our mind and our body conform, we begin to more fully embody those things. If we consider ourselves capable rather than incapable, how much more likely are we to do what needs doing?
Greater Self Empathy
Remember all of that grace we give to people who slip up when we admire them from afar through the mask of our biases and expectations? It turns out that is helpful, for ourselves. It seems we are our own worst critics. We fall one time and suddenly we are a horrible human being, the very scum of the universe! Let’s be a little more understanding. Give ourselves the benefit of the doubt as we would others we admire. It ultimately comes down to a level of respect. Do we have the same level of respect for ourselves as we do for others? If so, then it means that we understand that one mistake doesn’t make a habit. We respect ourselves enough to say truthfully “I made a mistake, but I am still (insert all the admirable/inspirational qualities you possess and use them to turn that mistake into a lesson).
Greater Self Knowledge and a More Authentic Self Concept
Taking a hard and honest look at yourself can be a harrowing task. You will uncover things you’d prefer to remain hidden, but let’s face it, no one really can know you better than you. You are the only one who knows your emotions and their triggers. You are the only one who knows your motivations. You are the only one who knows what you look like when you take that public mask off. You know your strengths and your weaknesses. The truly admirable quality here is the courage it takes to look at yourself, to truly know yourself as you are. The truth is: we have strengths, we have weaknesses, we have parts of ourselves we wish didn’t exist, but they do, and they are what make us unique. Some things we consider strengths, we can make even stronger, and some weaknesses we can work on, but we will never be free of all of our weaknesses nor all of our undesirable qualities.
We were never meant to be perfect. We were meant to be us. You are you and I am me. I can never be you and you can never be me, so let’s not chase after one another and instead look inside ourselves and find the person that is an inspiration because they are real, and true, and human.