Inspiration is one of the more difficult crafts to qualify and benefit from, in life. This is partly because whoever is doing the inspiring isn’t directly controlling whether they’re inspirational or not. The necessity, utility, and recognition awarded to someone who is attempting to inspire comes from the person, group, or organization being inspired. I can’t state outright, “I’m inspirational,” because inspiration is something that needs to be distinctly, earnestly proven on an individual basis. Inspiration is a lot like humor, both in the method of delivery and in the appreciation from the audience; in the same way a joke is either hailed with laughter or entombed in silence, an inspirational figure is either confirmed and revered or outcast as a sham within moments of his or her attempt of an inspiring act.
Inspiration may be tough to nail down, given its unusual individuation and immediacy, but I believe there are three key factors to determine when conceiving, developing, implementing, and promoting inspirational presentations to people in the disability community. My three focal points to use when gauging the quality of inspiration are respect, personality, and improvement. I’ll also be applying these points when specifically addressing how to reach young people with disabilities, because through my personal and professional experiences, I’ve found that children and young adults are more open to being inspired, first of all, as well as being more likely to refine their inspiration into something they can use to substantiate progress within their lives.
This should be a simple, self-evident concept and consequence, but I’ve found that it isn’t, and I’ll give an example why. It comes from my own childhood, when I was a full-time student in high school. On multiple occasions, I had teachers question the authenticity of my work, particularly so when it came to grading my written assignments. I did well in school generally because I liked it. I respected the challenge offered by new information, reorganizing perspective and expectation depending on the angularity and character of a teacher’s acumen and course breakdown; so much of public learning is a matter of point of entry and the quirky flourishes that a teacher uses to either highlight or diminish their lessons. This attention and respect was especially in evidence when it came to my writing, because I love it.
I’ve always cared about, loved, and relied upon my written communication because I had a natural disposition towards it, a talent for it, that I acknowledged and refined into a skill I currently employ, wield, and unleash. So, to have the veracity of my writing, the effort I put in, the passion, and the love disavowed was like someone curling overlong fingernails edgewise into the meat of my heart. That disrespect on behalf of those teachers whose names I can’t remember had the converse effect of making me prove myself, boldly presenting my work in a way that it was impossible to dismiss. My work was disrespected, and my quality was demeaned, because I was a kid with a disability, working against a prejudice that didn’t allow for my skillful accomplishment, no matter the additional circumstances beyond my disabling condition. I don’t remember who she was, but I remember this teacher telling me “a kid like you shouldn’t write like this.” She didn’t say I can’t, or that I couldn’t, she said I shouldn’t facilitate my skill. In her estimation, I wasn’t worth the capacity to achieve, let alone the achievement itself. I’m a child of the 1980’s, which means I missed being potentially forcibly, ignorantly sterilized because I was born with a disability by only two decades, since the Supreme Court’s decision in Buck V. Bell wasn’t socially and practically condemned until 1963, and has never officially been overturned. It also wasn’t very long ago that children with disabilities were shunned into institutions, isolated and imprisoned like Frankenstein’s monster.
Respect is the hugest factor when attempting to inspire a young person with a disability, because a young person with a disability is likely so used to disrespect that he or she may not even believe they’re worthy of respect. If you have the respect of a child or young adult with a disability, they will believe, trust, learn, and grow. I’ve worked to inspire and mentor young individuals with disabilities, and by prospering off of a foundation of respect, I’ve seen the kids I’ve helped finish school, get to work, and in some cases begin and nurture a new family. So, how is this respect earned?
I’ve spoken and presented on stages big and small, and for my time, money, and attention, nothing equals, surpasses, or even competes with meeting the eyes of an individual, in privacy, and letting them disclose who they are to you. The expansive symposiums of the classical inspirational speaker—your banquet halls, conference rooms, and auditoriums—can mean the ability to reach many eyes and ears, but does it mean anything to have a lot of people looking at you and listening to you all at once? In my experience, I’ve believed myself to be truly seen and heard only when engaging on an individual, person-to-person basis. No, it isn’t possible to do this with every person on earth, but as I’ve stated above, inspiration is a matter of precision, which comes from personal engagement, not resounding, anonymous ovations.
There was a young man I worked with recently, helping him to find a job. He’s in his late teens, eager and anxious to prove himself, and at our introduction, he did everything he could to force the issue of his worth, to validate his preparedness, to be a man in some sort of overheated, amorphous, adolescent rendition of the concept. He performed for me, as a characterization of the assured adult. He mixed his speaking voice with theatrical masculinity, layering on grit and bass that very obviously didn’t come naturally. He pounded his fist on the desk at the end of his statements. He stared and talked at me, manic and desperate, because he was absolutely ready for me to doubt him, scorn him, laugh at him, and discard him, because he was so used to the disrespect and indifference that so often peered at him from across a desk. So, I met his eyes, took a deep breath, and let him burn through his anger and fear. Then a funny thing happened: He ran out of prepared demands and challenges, the lancing fire igniting his eyes banked and cooled, and the curtains closed on his performance. Before my eyes, as his arsenal and armor of outrage and indignity fell away, he slowly and solidly became himself. He let himself be an awkward, hopeful boy, who knew some things, wasn’t sure about others, and needed some help but wasn’t certain how to go get it. He allowed me to be a man, sitting across from him, willingly listening and ready to help, if I could. We worked together person-to-person, and through this collaboration, which began with earnest and mutual respect, positive developments for this young man were inevitable.
The best advice in the world is useless without a readily understood and available application. You can inspire someone to hoist the whole world upon their shoulders and take on all comers, but if they don’t understand how to do that, it won’t matter. This is why whenever I advise, assist, or mentor someone, I tailor my methods to fit their objectives, and help make sure their goals have a very clear, direct path towards influencing the daily life of the person I’m attempting to inspire. Improvement is a difficult task for anyone, more so for young people, because they need to admit, internally and externally, that they don’t know everything, and that they could be performing a common action in a way they haven’t considered before, and this new way could potentially be better for them. To improve something, in essence, there has to be an admission that something is wrong in the first place.
This is not an admission that comes without respect or personal association, which is why I’m listing this factor of inspiration last. In all honesty, admitting that I need to improve myself is the most difficult eventuality that I struggle with, so when I’m inspiring someone else to attempt to improve his or her life, I have to be extra patient, careful, available, attentive, and instructive. Confrontation with fault, personal, professional, or otherwise, is naturally messy and brutal, which is why inspiration is so sought after and appreciated, and the useful application of that inspiration towards a specific objective is so precious and priceless.
To be asked and relied upon to inspire is a privilege, one that’s grounded and granted in deep trust and expectation. This trust of inspiration is only made possible by founding a relationship on respect, making every effort to confirm this relationship through personal contact and collaboration, and assuring that those who are being inspired understand how to direct and apply what they’re feeling and learning to their lives. Because the ultimate goal of inspiration is action, and the best hope for any of us, but particularly young people in the disability community who want to learn, work, and provide for themselves, is to improve our chances at living a life of fulfillment and satisfaction.