Inspired to do… what?

So I’m sitting here with a free day, recognizing that the posts have been thin and that I should get something up here, but I’m lacking a little motivation to get it going on. Lucky for me that this is the interblobs, and it’s not hard to find an inspirational message that will fire up my spirit and get me to pump out a couple of posts before Sunday rolls around again. Let’s see, what can I find here…

“You’re great!” Well, that’s obvious, but I’m still not great enough to be writing something.

“You’re special!” Special? In what way? That’s kind of an amorphous and subjective term, isn’t it?

“You have the strength within you.” I guess, though it’s not exactly strength I need right now, but something to either spark the creative process or get me pissed enough to rant about.

Curiously, this is the nature of many inspirational efforts, from the motivational posters in work that no one took seriously because they didn’t tell us how to deal with an asshole boss, to the simple images that can be found in so many locations online anymore. And I have to wonder whether they actually accomplish anything at all, even with the bar set so ridiculously low. Because, let’s be real, exactly what kind of emotional state or psyche is going to be affected by such simple and especially indirect messages?

Pop psychology is a hard thing to avoid, partially because it’s human nature to try and understand other people, but also because pop psychology is so ubiquitous that, when we see it, we’re inclined to think that it must have some value because everyone else keeps doing it. Yet in many cases, like inspirational messages, it reflects an incredibly condescending and demeaning attitude towards other people and the problems that we all face. Those that suffer from depression, clinical or just the generic kind, are tired of hearing, “Cheer up!” – it simply doesn’t work that way, and to believe that this would be effective implies that the recipient has a infantile mind. When someone is injured, no one is stupid enough to say, “Just stop feeling pain,” but somehow emotional or mental states are much easier to fix, it would seem.

Yes youNow, there are effective methods of outreach, and some of them aren’t too difficult; I don’t want to diminish the real and useful efforts that can be found. But often this is specific to an individual, and almost always consists of something more than a passing positive comment or pretty picture. I tend to view most inspirational messages now as “slacktivism,” that new term that applies to internet activities where someone posts something on their wall, or asks for upvotes or whatever, and thinks that they’re making a difference with virtually no effort expended at all. How often are such things merely a placebo, letting the person who posts or forwards them believe they’re fulfilling their personal obligation to do something useful? “Ah, there we go! I tapped my touchscreen in a couple of places and now the world is a better place!”

Yet there’s a more pernicious tendency within the topic, closely related to this, because such a large percentage of these kind of things are aimed at making an individual feel better about themselves, often without any particular reason. And what, exactly, does this accomplish? While I am sure there are a few people that are desperately in need of a little reassurance, a little boost to self-esteem, I can’t imagine it’s a lot, and the number that would receive a benefit from an anonymous assertion that they were great has got to be so trivial it can’t be measured; seriously, if we’re not fooled by this, how much stupider do we think others are? And, even if this did work, do we really need to foster and emphasize self-absorption?

We have superlatives for a reason. When we want to distinguish the extraordinary efforts of someone, when we take note of the qualities above the average, that’s what we can, and should, reasonably consider “great,” or any variation that you prefer. That’s what we really want for ourselves, isn’t it? Do I want to be just as “great” as everyone else? No, actually, I’d like to be even better than that, to stand out, to be recognized for something particular to me (if I ever find this, I’ll let you know what it is.) But even that is just ego, and right now we probably have enough of that in this country; I might go so far as to say that we have a surfeit. Maybe, and I’m just throwing out wild ideas here, we can consider recognizing and even encouraging behavior that positively affects others, that genuinely improves our community overall? Does anyone have an argument against that?

To me, that’s the kind of inspiration we should encourage. There’s far too much “me” in our society, and not enough “us” – too much emphasis on how good we feel about ourselves, as if this made some difference to anyone else at all, much less provided some improvement to the world at large. To say nothing of the ridiculous amount of time we spend actively competing against others of our own species, whether it be the progress of a sports team or whether we’re making more money than our neighbors or even how we drive on the road. Why not turn that around, remind people that helping others or improving our conditions are immeasurably better goals? Hey, maybe we feel shitty for whatever reason, but there are others that have it worse and can use our support. Or maybe we can just spend a little time helping out, teaching someone, throwing a few bucks at a decent cause, whatever.

And you know something? It not only produces a real, measurable, meaningful improvement to the world, it makes us feel good too – the same thing that the vapid inspirational messages attempt to do, but this method is a lot more effective. Why encourage being wrapped up in ourselves?

Hey, look, I found a topic after all…

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