There are some people that inspire me and some people that make me think. Sometimes they are the same person. Sometimes they aren’t. I see the act of inspiring people different from being insightful.
People that inspire me are those who display extraordinary determination or will to overcome challenges. Sometimes they are people who have shown a consistent character over time.
My Dad inspires me. He’s been an example to me for my whole life. His legacy speaks for itself. His faith and approach to life are honorable, to say the least.
My wife inspires me. She’s not only a fantastic mother and wife and educator but knowing some of her recent health challenges, makes what does even more impressive.
Lance Rougeux inspires me. I’ve worked for Lance for 5 years. He’s the best leader I’ve ever seen. He constantly filters out the things that don’t concern his team. He’s never too busy for anyone and is the first to share gratitude. His goal is to make everyone’s job easier. He’s had to deal a lot but never complains.
People I find insightful are those that are typically well read and also are able to communicate ideas in a way that provokes my thinking. Usually, they are great storytellers as well.
Malcolm Gladwell comes to mind. I know some question his methods but he has a way of explaining phenomena in unique ways. He also uncovers obscure stories and finds the hidden truths. Danah boyd is another. Her research around teens and social media has provided a much needed nuanced look at a very complicated subject. Not only does she know her stuff but is able to add an empathetic voice that doesn’t cast judgment but captures the human aspect of this topic. Will Richardson remains someone I’ve read for a long time and continues to provide thoughtful insight and sees through much of the rhetoric, tradition, and paradigms that plague education.
A could continue this list but these give you a sense of my own beliefs and perspectives around the ideas of inspiration and insight.
Inspiration is more about the heart. Typically, it’s a demonstration of character that tells a story over time. Insight is about the mind. Insightfulness can sometimes appear to happen quickly but the truth is, most people who are insightful, read and think a lot before they share their insights.
Both of these qualities are highly sought and both require time and effort. I’ve noticed lately that some folks are taking short-cuts to be considered inspirational or insightful. The short-cuts for both of these attributes are often disguised with pithy quotes that are either empty, overly obvious or do nothing to provoke. Insight should make a person think. It requires more than a head nod or an Amen. It often creates cognitive dissonance, not to dismiss but to consider. People who say things that are simply agreeable, in my mind are not insightful. Inspiration, in this context, is often manifested in a touching video or story that either exaggerates a struggle or wrapped with a touching soundtrack and soundbites from children. There’s a feeling of being manipulated. In and of themselves these aren’t necessarily bad. But using either tactic without substance or meaningful context comes across as phony.
One of the reasons I’m writing this is because, on occasion, people have used these words to describe my work. I’m flattered but unsure whether it’s well deserved and whether or not they know enough about me to really warrant their compliment.
I don’t think of my work as particularly inspirational. I hope it’s encouraging. I hope it’s affirming. I don’t feel comfortable having it labeled inspirational. When I hear someone like Natalie Panek tell her story of how she became a rocket scientist, that’s inspiring. When Kevin Honeycutt talks about his upbringing, that’s inspiring. I don’t have those personal stories. When I speak I often share videos or stories that tug at people’s heart and may even evoke tears. I hesitate using them because I don’t want to be seen as going for a cheap cry. The truth is anyone can show a video that’s inspirational, but that doesn’t make them inspirational. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them but I also worry about crossing a line of manipulating people. If it helps solidify a point I’m trying to make, that’s fine. But if it is just inserted superfluously, I get annoyed.
I do think of my work as insightful. I read a lot, I listen a lot, I get to spend time in many schools and districts and am able to glean a great deal. I’m also able to extract truths and principles and hopefully share them in a way that’s accessible and meaningful to others. I’ve worked on my ability to tell stories and provide perspectives that not everyone sees.
Is any of this making sense? Let me leave you with a few ideas that I’d love to know more about.
Who inspires you?
Who do you find insightful?
Do my definitions of insight and inspiration resonate? What would you add or subtract?
Are you noticing false insight or inspiration? What does it look like? How does it make you feel?
Would love your thoughts. (Shout out to John Spencer for listening to me natter on about these things and providing great insight as well. PS. He’s very insightful)