Revisiting inspiration [2014 blog]

With all this recent talk of inspiration porn, I feel it’s important we put away the able-bodied pitchforks and take stock of the situation. The brutal reality is, some people find me inspiring. Some probably find you inspiring, too. And you know what? That’s just fine.

I didn’t always feel that way, mind you, but everything changed on January 24, 2014.

It was a hot summers day in Auckland, at a music festival downtown. I was dancing to Earl Sweatshirt, and You Won’t Believe What Happened Next.

“Hey, sorry I know this is a bit random but I just wanted to let you know…”

Oh god, here we go again.

“…I think you’re really inspiring.”

I roll my eyes. Inwardly of course; I’m not a total monster. 

“Oh you know,” comes my stock response, “I’m just living my life, it’s no big deal”.

Then it happened.

“Well, it kinda is a big deal. My Mum was diagnosed with MS a few years ago, and has completely withdrawn from life. She’s crippled with fear and judgment. And I totally get it. So the fact that, on some level, you deal with that, move past it, and get on with life, I honestly find that really inspiring.”

It was at that moment that I completely changed my position on being inspirational.

See, as a disabled person, it’s very easy to infer condescension when able-bodied people broach the topic of disability with you.

“Why are you in a wheelchair?” becomes, “Tell me your story so I can pity you more than I already obviously do”.

“Have you always been in a wheelchair?” becomes “Can you tell me about a time that you used to be able-bodied so that I can, on some level, pretend we’re not so different?”

And of course, “You’re so inspiring” becomes “I’m super glad I’m not you! But the fact that you are, and you still get out of bed every day blows my mind!”

But here’s the thing. Inspiration is, fundamentally, a response to something. I’m inspired by a friend of mine who started her own business. I’m inspired by my some of my students, who defy the odds on a daily basis. And you know what? Sometimes, I’m even inspired by other disabled people.

So who am I to dictate what people are or aren’t allowed to derive inspiration from? If someone, whose story and background I don’t know, takes inspiration from my life, how is that something I could possibly have a problem with?

I take far greater issue with disabled people who actively purport to be inspiring, or who trade on their perceived inspirational value, as a way to make money. I often wonder what role these self-professed inspirers play in constructing the very narrative that able-bodied people get caught up in. To be inspired is one thing, but to actually advertise yourself as inspirational? That’s plain arrogance.

We have too much of many things in today’s world. We have too much inequality. We have too much Miley Cyrus. And god knows we have too much of Colin Craig’s batty politics in our newspapers.

But if we’re honest with ourselves, we can never be inspired too often. It’s a good thing, like sunshine and Jennifer Lawrence.

So let’s just take it whenever we can, and from whatever and whomever we choose. And if someone wants to squeeze some out of me, well that’s just fine.

[This post was originally published on in 2014]

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