Inspiration as Spiritual Entertainment

December 28, 2015



Inspiration is overrated.  Or, to be more precise, I think that inspirational stories that move people emotionally are overrated.  If Facebook is any indication, the internet abounds in inspirational stories of people overcoming adversity or showing compassion.  These stories are almost always accompanied by status updates proclaiming how this is the way people should act and be.  Most often these are stories about animal welfare or showing kindness to people who are suffering or in need.  


Lest I be misunderstood, I have no objection whatsoever to the acts portrayed in those videos. To the contrary, those are acts to be lauded and applauded. But their replication and sharing on Facebook is not "inspirational" if by that word we mean that we are somehow moved to take similar action.  As the image above suggests, along with most dictionary definitions, inspiration is about "creative action" not just the feeling that accompanies such action. "Reposting" and "sharing" are not inspired moves.  


I won't deny that sharing stories can be an important part of inspiration. But in the age of constant story-sharing, there is a risk. More often than not, people enjoy the feeling they get from watching these incredible acts of kindness. They are in touch, ever so briefly, with a core aspect of themselves, a deep reservoir of unconditional love. That is, of course, the truest part of the human self, the only real part, in fact.  It's what everyone craves, and why these videos have become a constant part of the life of Facebook.


But they have come to substitute for authentic inspiration or creative activity. Rather than actually leading people to go out and do something, or to change their minds in any profound or transformative way, these videos or stories come to provide "spiritual entertainment" (the phrase is not mine). They become an addictive substitute for the real thing -- which is living from one's heart.  You get to live vicariously through the courageous acts of others.  Rather than invest yourself--a risky proposition--you live off the interest of someone else's investment.


Feeling like a pick-me-up?  You read another feel-good story or watch another heart-warming video, and you live off that feeling for a while, until the next fix is needed.  It's called spiritual entertainment.  Facebook is quickly becoming the streaming Netflix of spirituality.  Just pull up another video and read another story, and you'll feel good about the state of the world instead of doing the deep dive into your own mind and to take inspired action in the world. People can continue to act in all sorts of selfish and judgmental ways, and then feel "inspired," ever so briefly by the kindness of others.


My tone here might seem cynical, but I don't mean it to be. Instead, I mean to offer a blunt call to wake up and stop living off the emotional rewards of a feel-good story and go out and take some inspired action to do some good in the world. Take a risk and do something, anything, however small, to make another person's life better, and enjoy the feeling from that action.  Start doing the inner work of being compassionate instead of reading about it in others.


The rewards of doing so are enormous, for you and for others.  You might not become the subject of a Facebook story or video, but you'll be able to feel the joy of offering yourself in service to another.  Your actions will have served another human being, rather than perpetuating a spiritual entertainment cottage industry. You'll know the courage you had to stop living vicariously through the works of others. You'll know, as only experience can show, what true inspiration really feels like. 


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