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The inspiration for Personal Growth
Positive Words vs. Role Models?
By Larry Rosenberg & Andy Ferguson
Using the format of a dialogue, Larry and Andy address the role inspiration plays in personal growth and transformation. The authors evaluate the nature and potency of two drivers of personal evolution – listening to positive words and observing the ways of role models.
It is easy to say that both words and role models advance people’s personal growth and development. And that some people will benefit more from one than from the other. But from a conscious perspective, which of these two fuels will have a greater impact on people committed to accelerated and substantial growth? To address that question, I want to look at the process and outcome of growth.
We can begin by asking, What is going on in the growth process? At its heart is creativity, and the outcome is something new manifested. Inspiration in the modern sense – in contrast to the early definition of Divine influence – involves stimulation of human mental and emotional faculties.
The inspirational power of words can be immediate, attention-getting and clearly specific. The right words, of quality and in quantity, can produce a fast and noticeable jolt of inspiration. But there are times when direct words do not get through because of the ambiguity of content and distractions (noise) in the communication. In a world that floods us with words and images, of both high and low quality, the message can be lost in the outpouring.
On the surface, role modelling as a means of inspiration appears to be more general and indirect. However, I contend that it possesses high-impact attributes by being holistic and multisensory. Both on conscious and unconscious levels, there is ample opportunity for the example and energy of the role model, the inspiring agent, to transmit a deep, wide and even complex message to another person.
Whereas positive words work in a fast and traceable cause-and-effect manner, the role model’s means of influencing can have the power to seep in over time. The role model – especially one who is creative, innovative, ingenious, original, expressive, insightful, brilliant and sophisticated – is likely to be giving off categories, layers and patterns of inspiration that can rewire, at a fundamental level, the brain and mind of the receiving person. This may be the difference between giving a person a fish for a meal (positive words) and teaching them to fish for the rest of their life (role modelling).
Wow, that’s a lot to get my head around. Keeping it simple, I get more inspiration from someone’s example than I do from inspirational words or slogans. Maybe because I’ve been immersed in this world for so long, words and slogans tend to ricochet off me when I read or hear them. To me, so-called inspirational quotes and slogans are often mindless lazy clichés trotted out, with little or no thought or imagination. I’m much more inspired when someone does something that I find really amazing. I don’t want you to tell me about something, I want to see someone or something amazing in action.
Courage, resilience, patience, hard work, genius, creativity and excellence: When I experience living or historical examples of these things with my own senses, I am blown away … I get inspired.
Of course, that’s the thing: We get inspired when we connect to something that deeply resonates with us, especially our dreams for ourselves or our world. Let me come clean, as someone who used to make his living as an inspirational speaker: I learned loads of tricks, verbal and nonverbal, to inspire people, and thus earn my paycheck.
Inspiring people with words can be relatively simple and often easy too. You spray proven clichés far and wide with conviction, and many will be affected and respond as you want them to. If you know, or can guess, what your audience’s dreams and fears are, it’s not hard to punch their buttons. Just look at the success of the current raft of popular “people’s” politicians out there endeavouring to inspire their followers to…!
In our age of social media, it’s not words that inspire people; it’s the conviction behind the words that mesmerise them. They look at someone who seems to have what they crave – power, fame, influence, respect and money, and they want that too – even if it’s entirely false. Maybe we’ll explore that in a bit, for now, I want to hear Larry’s take on what I’ve just written.
Andy, your points—about the lack of real power in overused words and the nefarious reasons that the words’ source has in mind – are well taken. The misuse and abuse of words, intended or not, should be considered when evaluating communication effectiveness.
In focusing on the true power of inspiration, I am introducing another perspective to evaluate the impact of words and role modelling. Viewing inspiration as a process in which the mind is stimulated to be creative, we tap into one of the great contributions to the evolution of humankind over many past millennia.
What has been and still is at stake is our civilization’s capacity to generate and apply creativity in many forms – such as inventiveness, ingenuity, imagination, originality, individuality, expressiveness, insight, vision, brilliance, sophistication and genius. Without these energies, Homo sapiens might still be living in caves and without fire
I submit that words may lead to these lofty creative outcomes, but usually not alone. The examples of creative and other elevated behaviours – while usually described in words, before or after their occurrence – are at their strongest power when embodied in a role-model person. Yes, they used words, but over time the authenticity and integrity of their behaviour will be heard, seen, felt, believed and recognized. As Abraham Lincoln stated, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
This piece is supposed to be about the role of Inspiration in Personal Growth, and yet I am drawn to the fact that inspiration can be misused. I’m thinking again about populist movements that are often used to constrain personal growth. Followers are often inspired and induced to do things that are not good for themselves or others.
Andy, I respond by making a distinction between inspiration and motivation. Both concepts sound desirable in terms of being useful for people, but …
Strictly speaking, according to dictionaries, inspiration works through influence and suggestion. It may invite and energize the recipient to consider acting in a certain way, but without any clear pressure to act that way, its effect stops there.
On the other hand,motivation plays with the mind, both conscious and unconscious, to manipulate the recipient to act as the source of the motivational statement or behaviour intends. While on the surface, the motivation is set up to feature the recipient’s benefit, in fact, the deemphasized, disguised or unseen reasons for the articulated motivation may actually be more to the source’s advantage and may involve disregarding and damaging the recipient’s well-being.
So perhaps we can say, Inspiration is a stimulating thought that also acts to make our heart beat a bit faster. It’s the flash of an idea and it’s a feeling – something important and exciting appears possible. It is a positive trigger that can be something as simple as a few words or as slow burning as seeing someone achieve something amazing over time.
Motivation is different, it is the act of doing – changing something or at least trying to change something.
As always with all these discussions, I have more questions than when we started, and that’s a good thing! I think we can take this in other directions in future discussions. One thought that follows up quite naturally, I believe, What makes ideas so powerful and dangerous? But let’s leave that for another dialogue.
Let me quote Theodore Roosevelt, “Great thoughts [and words] speak only to the thoughtful mind, but great actions speak to all mankind.”
In the end, I believe personal growth is so desirable for the individual, group, society and Humanity that we should use whatever creative combination of words and role models – and expect some synergy – to encourage and stimulate it. And while words are always necessary, they typically are not sufficient for causing genuine and lasting change. The personality, behaviour and energy of the right role model are vital and often indispensable for the outcome of meaningful and extraordinary personal growth.
So, Larry, I guess we should be vigilant every day regarding the words that we use and the way we behave because people do notice these things. We are, even when we don’t realise it, acting as a role model to those around us. And equally, we need to be on guard about the things we are listening to, and the people we are observing. So seek out positive role models, and read material that stimulates and encourages your personal growth. It’s perhaps obvious that it’s easy for us to get lazy and let it slide. Now there is another topic for the future, standards.
Larry, thanks for your thoughts. As always it’s been great to start with an idea and see it develop through our conversation. Exploring ideas through conversation is something we could all be doing a lot more of. I believe that’s it a step towards building a happier and more rewarding world for all.