Your hero is not all yin, and other home truths about inspirational people

I’m a pretty positive person, perhaps not relentlessly so, but certainly when it comes to other people, I do lean towards the unreasonably optimistic.

I just kind of believe in people. I believe in you, and I haven’t even met you. I just know you are wise, strong, talented and capable of wonderful things. I really do think this. Of those people who have actually hurt me in the past, part of why their hurting me is so awful to me is because I just know they are capable of not having done it. I would rather believe they’re good and just had a bad moment than believe they are intrinsically bad. And people who are rude to my face don’t shock me with their rudeness – the shocking part is I really, really know they don’t have to do it, but under the circumstances, felt it was justified. I believe in my heart if they could just identify what makes them need to be so defensive, they’d be okay, and feel much better. When I write about the things that irritate or outright offend me, it’s always because I really believe people can stop being stupid and unkind if they really want to.

When I wrote my diatribe criticising the pastor who thinks it’s perfectly okay to gloat about his militant exploits in Africa in a porn magazine, it’s because I truly believe the man is good in his heart, but simply chooses to ignore the bare-assed fact that porn debases women, and Jesus doesn’t like it when women are debased. Porno Pastor, I believe in you! I know you can cease your mindless misogyny any time! Call me! I’ll be your personal cheer squad!

The thing is, we are wont to correcting or criticising others for the things we suspect we are guilty of ourselves. Whilst I’m not specifically prone to having articles about myself wallpapered in amongst pictures of naked women, I am perfectly capable of shameless promotion and over-enthusiasm when it comes to the things I care about. I care about the abasement of women, people who have cancer, alcoholics and the mentally ill, amongst other things. Pastor Porno cares about – well, I’m not sure any more. But we both are hopelessly flawed, and blind to many of those flaws, but absolutely well-meaning and good all at the same time.

Despite the fact I am generally optimistic and positive especially when it comes to other people, I don’t feel happy and cheery every day.

My bad days, even after all this time, after I’ll I’ve learned and been through and all I have to be grateful for, can be pretty bad. Pretty bad. Bad days are rare, but are so bad they can have me believing there have never been any good ones, ever. That bad.

People often tell me I’m inspiring. Just this week I happened to mention to a customer in the shop where I work how I had cancer nine years ago, and she responded with “Wow, you’re a real inspiration!” I never know quite what to say to this, so I just say “thank you”. I used to be very inspired meeting folks who were a few more years down the cancer survival track from me, so I always just assume this is what people mean.

But I’ve never thought as myself as inspirational, because I always thought inspirational people were inspirational in public, inspirational at home, inspirational watching TV, making peanut butter sandwiches for the kids lunches and scrubbing the toilet. But the more inspirational people I actually meet and get to know (and lucky me, I’ve met and gotten to know a few) the more I’m learning they aren’t inspirational all the time.

They’ve at least as much yang as they have yin.

Image credit: iStockphoto

I’m reading shame researcher Brene Browns book Daring Greatly right now. Brene tells the story of how someone invited her to speak at their event and she was disposed to decline as it clashed with a family function. The person doing the inviting began a campaign of begging, progressing to harrassment towards his invitee, trying to get her to accept the engagement, but she continued to refuse. The correspondence became covertly hostile. At some point, needing to vent, Brown wrote an email to her husband about the situation, actually using the word horseshit several times. But instead of clicking on forward, she clicked on reply.


An inspirational person, not an inspirational moment.

Except that it is, because it lets me know even the most amazing, insightful, intelligent and mindful person can be a dick.

I, too, can be a dick. Just ask Pastor Porn, and his many supporters, who wrote to let me know I absolutely am. Funny, because I thought he was being one, and I’m still convinced about it. You, also, have the capacity to be a bit of a dick. The trick is not to live like that, to play that tape over and over in your head until you come to believe every interaction, communication and motivation is poisoned by the same dick-ness and stupidity and lack of insight displayed in that particular moment.

The trick is to acknowledge you have the capacity for both, and trust you have the will and the wisdom to choose well.

Nobody can be inspirational all the time. But those low moments when you’re not being especially sparkly don’t cancel out the occasions when you are. Give yourself a small break. I do it all the time. Not total dick-ness amnesia, that would be a kind of sociopathy, perhaps just inexorable self-forgiveness. Unremitting compassion. Stubborn, obstinate, unstoppable grace, in fact.

You’re a dick, sure. But you’re also an inspiration. It’s the yin and and yang of you, and I like it. It makes you more human, less perfect. Really real. More like….well, like me.

You’re okay. I’m okay.

By the way, I truly believe in you. 🙂



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