19th century German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said:
"And Those Who Were Seen Dancing Were Thought to Be Mad by Those Who Couldn't Hear the Music."
Obviously Mr. Nietzsche was speaking metaphorically. By Dancers, Nietzsche was describing the misfits; the outsiders, those we don't understand, and we think they're crazy, mad, and insane. Those who don't conform do not follow the norm. But why they behaved in such manner? I believe the answer lays in the last part of Nietzsche’s maxim: Music. Those who danced were awe struck; they received a form of inspiration. And in this post I'd like to explore the importance of Inspiration.
Professionals today speak about or read about stepping out of Comfort Zones, handling Leadership Challenges, Empowerment, being Creative & Innovative, etc… but in this post, I'd like to investigate beyond those broad themes. I'd like to talk about Inspiration, or as Nietzsche referred to it: Music. I firstly need to investigate why we tend to lose inspiration. Secondly, how to attain it? Thirdly, and most importantly: understanding that inspiration is not a thing, but a process, and we need to adapt to it.
To unify perspectives, let's define inspiration: according to Oxford English Dictionary Inspiration is: “A breathing in or infusion of some idea, purpose, etc. into the mind; the suggestion, awakening, or creation of some feeling or impulse, especially of an exalted kind.”
Why Inspiration matters? Why do lose it? Why can't everyone hear the Music? And how to gain it again? Those are important questions, don't you agree with me?
In order to answer those questions, we need to study a situation that occurred in Rural India. India, despite being a major player in Global Economy, suffers greatly from poverty. Its population has low rates life expectancy and literacy, and high rates of pollution and corruption.
In Rural India, where two-thirds of Indians live, electricity is scarce and only one in four homes has a toilet. And in there, Economists, Anthropologists and Sociologists have noticed a strange crisis. In those rural villages giving birth to a girl is more costly than a boy. Girls don't go to schools. Women were not t allowed to work professionally, unlike men who can make an income. Also, weddings and dowry are the Bride's burden.
In one study, 51% of the Husbands in those villages said it's okay to beat their women. But more heartbreakingly, when the Wives were asked if it's okay to be beaten by Husbands, 54% said yes.
Sometimes, when you lack inspiration, your greatest enemy is yourself.
Government created an initiative called: Apni Beti, Apna Dhan (My Daughter, My Pride), in which they paid Mothers not to have abortions if they were pregnant with girls. Also, there were social projects to lend women money to start their own businesses. Those attempts had little success.
And by the way: this dire situation didn't occur two or three centuries ago. Those studies occurred over the 1980s and 1990s.
However, this was true until the year 2000. Two Economists: professor Emily Oster of Chicago University, and Robert Jensen of the University of California, noticed a radical change of behavior over the next three years. In their study of 180 rural villages, they observed that in some Villages, Women were less likely to tolerate beatings by their husbands. They started developing a sense of autonomy and started working. Girls started going to schools. Men started helping with the kitchen work.
What made those Villages special? What sort of inspiration they received that brought about this change? The Economists discovered that between 2001 and 2003, the villages where women were empowered have received electricity, and what did electricity bring? An old invention called the TV!
When those women gathered around TV and watched women in the rest of the World, and outside the walls of their World, they realized that there is something very wrong in the way of their lives. And that changed how they think, thus they become autonomous, and eventually saved their lives.
In fact a study that was conducted at the University of Stanford tells us about the effects of being inspired, of being struck by Awe. Awe, or Inspiration alters our view of the world, stimulates new mental models, enhances well-being, and develops a sense of compassion, altruism, philanthropy, selflessness. We actually reconfigure how we view the world.
Is this how inspiration is attained? By external influences? Can we only be inspired under certain circumstances? This was true in the case of the Indian Women.
We as human have been seeking awe for ages: we travel to new places where nature strikes us. We watch movies that move us. We listen to Music that trances us. We read novels that make us tear. We all yearn for that journey that refreshes us. This way, contemplating the beauties of everyday life attains us awe and inspiration.
But those are short-lived bursts of inspiration. Hardly sustainable and we often revert back to what we were. Thus the question becomes: can we cultivate Inspiration internally? Embrace it? I believe we can.
First we need to understand that Inspiration is not a sort of divine gift that a few of us receive and others don't. It is our job to seek that inspiration, to manufacture it, to design it. The 'Some of us have and others don't' argument simply is inaccurate. What is accurate is that some of us might respond or not respond to it, and this is due to intricate reasons of intelligence, social-economical statuses, cultures and environments, psychological well-being, internal drive, mentorship, etc.…
So why some of us don’t respond to inspiration? Because it means operating outside the norm, appearing unreasonable, mad, insane, or crazy. Unfortunately we became too complaint; too obedient; too passive. We became Machine-Like. Followers of the Norm.
As result we ignore our true passion and true selves to please someone else. We became a copy of someone else's vision and we forgot our true own selves. We don't try. We become Risk Averse and avert endeavors where failure is probability. Failure and fear of failure paralyze us.
But I want to argue that only by accepting the probability of failure that we can sustain inspiration.
Please note here that when I say Failure, I don't mean being incompetent, or lazy, or inattentive. Rather being a Risk Taker, an Adventurous, by plunging oneself into the unknown.
So how can we reach that man that represents our most inner self? It's a mindset.
It is what Gilda Rander called Delicious Ambiguity, which is taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what is going to happen next.
What poet John Kates called Negative Capability, which is what goes to making a Man of Achievement, who's comfortable with uncertainty.
To be what Theodore Roosevelt called The Man in the Arena, whose face is marred in dust and blood and sweat.
Adapting and sustaining inspiration require overcoming our insecurity and fear of humiliation and willingness to take social risks. This mindset is about facing the probability of failure and accepting it and embracing it. Because only by this adaption we can reclaim Inspiration, we can hear that Music.
So how can we adapt to this mindset?
In his book: David And Goliath, author Malcolm Gladwell shares with us a notion from Psychology. This notion is called Desirable Difficulties; which basically describes how adding challenges to the existing task, willingly or unwillingly, makes us perform optimally. In other words, the more we embrace this probability, the more resilient we become. While some people capitalize on their existing Talents and succeed, some people have to invest on their lack of talents to succeed. And the latter is not easy. But in the Language of Success we know that what is learned out of necessity is certainly more powerful than what is given.
Malcolm Gladwell provides an extraordinary example from the book.
Do you know a person named Gary Cohn?
Gary was born in 1960, and when he went to school, he didn't understand why he faced difficulties reading texts and paragraphs as his classmates did. He suffered from Dyslexia, a sight disease that makes Reading almost impossible, and just to give you a sense of how difficult that is: spell a glass of water on a paper and try to read it.
He had a very difficult time in school that he was expelled. He says that teachers thought he was a disruptive kid. He says that during those years, when he was about 7 years old, his classmates thought he was an idiot, and he tried to fit, a very difficult task, because in doing so, he is risking humiliation. He says "everyday I'd wake us and say: today will be better." But that never happened; he called his education years the Ugly Years, and "probably the most frustrating part of my life."
His parents took him from one school to another. His mom just wanted him to graduate from High School and she said it doesn't matter if he becomes a Truck Driver.
After graduation, he worked at a job selling Window Frames. And one day he decided to visit Wall Street in New York. He was interested in the business of Trading and he was there looking for a job opportunity. But the market was closing and he almost lost his opportunity. Suddenly he saw a well-dressed man getting to a taxi, and he thought that he looked important. So he approached him and asked him if he can share the taxi with him. And in that ride, Cohen learnt that this man was part of a Brokerage Firm in Wall Street, and he managed to convince him that he knew about Trading, and to get him a job interview at his Firm. At the end of taxi ride, they agreed to meet on Monday. Between the times they met and of the interview, Cohen read about Trading, and when he had the interview, he was accepted to the firm. Today, Cohn leads a very prosperous career; he is the President of Goldman Sachs, one of the world’s most important Investment Banks.
This was a man whose mother wished he could become a Truck Driver. His teachers thought he was a disruptive kid. His classmates thought he was an idiot. And he had to fight his way through all these accusations. In the Taxi Ride, the hardships he adapted to in the Schoolyard helped him to convince the Wall Street man that he is worthy of an interview. And he was granted one. What if the Wall Street man rejected him and dismissed him? Cohen might have embarrassed himself, but it would have been Okay, because that is a risk he had to accept, like every other situation in his childhood. All the difficulties and failures of his childhood compensated him with the opportunity of his lifetime.
Gray Cohn says: My upbringing allowed me to be comfortable with Failure.
Adapting to the requirements of inspiration isn’t easy, but once made, it’s very fruitful. That is probably what Bernard Shaw meant when he said: ‘the reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him... The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself... All progress depends on the unreasonable man.’
And so: be the unreasonable man who changes the World.