AROUSED, animated, or imbued with the spirit to do something, by or as if by supernatural or divine influence.
Definition of INSPIRED, Dictionary.com
Inspiration has a numinous quality to it. We know when it comes upon us – the feeling of cold air on the back of our throat as we take a sharp intake of breath, the way we raise our eyebrows and our eyes go wide, the enraptured smile and amazed laugh – all these are the outward signs of inspiration. But what does it truly mean to be inspired, inside? What does it take to inspire others?
This is the question I started ROUSE Them to solve. I’m a votary of inspiration – I love collecting inspirational quotes, movies, slogans, images, performances, practices, and ideas – and I’ve come up with eight elements of inspiration. What do I mean by “elements”? I mean that these eight concepts are at the heart of what it is to be inspired. People who are inspired may not exhibit all these elements, but people experiencing them all are definitely inspired. In philosopher-speak, these are “sufficient but not necessary conditions” for inspiration.
What are the eight elements? I argue that when people are INSPIRED to act, they frequently demonstrate the following characteristics: they have the relevant Information about an issue; they feel that their action around that issue is a Necessity; they experience a sense of Solidarity and shared commitment with others; they consider themselves part of a greater Purpose; they are often responding to an Injury they or someone they care about has suffered; they have been illuminated by a new vision of the future, enabling the Reimagination of their world; they feel Empowered to act; and, ultimately, they give themselves in Devotion, long-term, to the cause.
If people are to be inspired to act around an issue, they need to know about that issue. They need information: what’s wrong, what can be done, and how they can help – specifically. Conveying your ideas clearly is essential to inspiring people – crystal clarity counts.
The second element of inspiration is necessity: people need to feel both that it is necessary to act on your issue, and that their participation is necessary. If you lack the first aspect of necessity, people will think “why now?” If you lack the second aspect, they will think “why me?” Neither of those responses is the excited “Yes! Me! Now!” of the truly inspired.
The third element of inspiration is solidarity: people will frequently only act if they feel that others are acting with them. In the words of organizer and Harvard Professor Marshall Ganz, people need to feel like they are part of an “Us” – a group with shared values – in order to act collectively to solve a problem. Solidarity is the heart of every “Us”.
This one’s huge: when people are inspired they often feel a connection to a mission or calling way bigger than themselves, something which they are dedicating their energy to which supersedes and surpasses them in importance. In short, they feel a sense of purpose.
It might seem strange that “injury” is one of the elements of inspiration, but when it comes to inspiring people to act, few experiences are as effective a spur as the sense that we – or someone we care about – has been injured. If we can make it clear the injury caused to real people by actions we oppose, then we will be much more effective at inspiring people to act.
It’s no use telling people what’s wrong, and what needs to change, if you don’t offer them a vision of a different future. That’s why reimagination is so important to inspiration: when people are inspired, it’s often because they’ve been presented with a reimagined view of the future, an idea of how things could be.
To inspire people, you also have to empower them. If you understand an issue, know what needs to change, feel it’s necessary to get involved, can see what a different future might look like, but don’t feel like you can make a difference, how likely is it that you will act? Empowerment overcomes this problem: it awakens people to their own potential, demonstrating that they do have the power to make change.
Finally, devotion: the ultimate end-point, the hallmark of the fully committed. Inspiration can be a transitory thing, a momentary relief from the burdens of the everyday, and that’s nice enough. But people who are inspired are devoted to their cause: they give themselves to it, immerse themselves in it, make it the center of their life. If you can engender this level of commitment, then you know you have truly INSPIRED.
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