When I was teaching there were some words that I would ban kids from using in their stories. "Nice" was one of them. As in "We went for a nice walk to the park and had a nice picnic. It was nice.". "Pretty" was another "I had a pretty dress on and saw a pretty pony, it was pretty fun." Another one that would really get me riled is "awesome". "I played my awesome nintendo, Spiro is an awesome game. Then I made an awesome sandwich, it was awesome." I would teach the kids that by overusing a word, they would decrease its value. If their nintendo, game and sandwich are all awesome, what word are they going to use when they want to describe looking out from the summit of Mount Everest or walking through an ancient cathedral while a skilled choir sings 'How Great Thou Art'? How are they going to communicate “filled me with awe” when “awesome” has been used up on every second weekend? To paraphrase immortal words of Horton the Elephant - say what you mean and mean what you say.
There's a difference.
If I had my way, there are some words and phrases that would be locked away from overuse until they regained their meaning. Politicians should be banned from using the phrase "working families" and the word "unAustralian" (although there is legitimate debate over whether UnAustralian IS actually a word). They have been overused to the point of meaninglessness. I can't watch the news at election time without going into a long rant about word usage.
Another word that I think should be locked away for it's own good is "inspiration".
Type ‘define inspiration’ into Google and you get:
Noun: 1. The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, esp. to do something creative: "flashes of inspiration".
2. The quality of having been so stimulated, esp. when evident in something: "a moment of inspiration in an otherwise dull display".
Winston Churchill inspires me. He said “When you’re going through Hell, keep going.” At the height of the Blitz when it looked like Britain would lose the war and thousands of young men were dying because of choices a few were making he made his famous “We will fight them on the beaches” speech. Which was the British aristocratic equivalent of standing in the English channel and saying to Hitler ‘Bring it’. When he escaped from a POW camp as a young man as the train he was stowed away on crossed into safe territory he threw back the covers and yelled “I’m Winston Bloody Churchill and I’m FREE”. In all his alcoholic, cigar smoking, pill popping, mentally unstable and long dead glory, Winston Churchill inspires me (mentally stimulates me) to keep going and survive even when odds are stacked against me.
Yet when many people use this word what they are trying to communicate is: ‘it gave me a warm, squishy feeling inside and made me think about doing something. Perhaps. One day. If I have enough coffee and the wind blows right and it doesn’t conflict with any appointments’.
Stories of celebrities loosing 10kg and kittens being rescued from small spaces are pinned as inspirational by newsreaders and interviewers. There are entire sections of book shops devoted to ‘Inspirational’ literature that seem to be filled with funny pictures with cliché captions. People sit around after church glibly describing the morning service as ‘inspirational’ but nothing in their internal or external world changes. People read or witness extraordinary things and they expound on the inspirational qualities of them…then they go on just as before. And the value of the word decreases.
Surely if you are inspired you should have something change at least in your internal world if not your external.
Being the inspiration for someone else rarely changes one’s life very much. Shakespeare had been dead for hundreds of years before I was born and is not touched at all by how his words inspire me. Inspiration is intrinsic to the individual. People have been inspired by rocks, trees, canyons, rivers, and natural disasters. John Newton, author of ‘Amazing Grace’, was inspired to convert to Christianity by a storm that nearly sunk his ship. The storm was left unchanged by their encounter but John Newton was not. In order for a person to inspire another person they do not have to be perfect or even particularly good. Winston, as I mentioned before, was by many accounts an alcoholic, cigar smoking, pill popping, mentally unstable individual who would have been a right royal pain to live with; but he inspires me. What is a catalyst for inspiration for one person may be inconsequential for another. The dandelion in the footpath may be a strong metaphor for life and resilience to one person and an impetus to go and buy some weed killer to another.
I cringe a little when people tell me I am ‘inspirational’. Being their inspiration changes me little if at all but I wonder if it truly changes them. If hearing about what we have gone through inspires someone to get to know Christ that little bit better or change the way they deal with their kids and spouse for the better, that’s great. It doesn’t really change me any but good for them. If they mean inspirational like the poster of a kitten hanging on the wall with the caption ‘Hang In There’ that everyone ignores or looks at and then forgets it’s… insulting.
There have been portions of the last two months that have been like a waking nightmare. There have been portions of the last two months that have felt like my heart was ripped out. There have been portions of the last two months that have nearly broken me. The whole of this time I have been walking with my Shepherd through the Valley of Death – aka, Hell. There have been days where I have had to just take Winston’s advice and keep walking.
So before you tell me I am inspirational, take a good hard look at yourself and ask “How have I changed?” If you have truly changed and for the better then don’t bother telling me about it, talk to the Holy Spirit – author of inspiration. If you haven’t changed and your daily life and thoughts are the same as they were before, please don’t reduce what I have gone through to a kitten poster or two minute youtube clip that gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling.
Again, to paraphrase the immortal words of Horton the Elephant, say what you mean and mean what you say.
Or else I’ll give you a detention.