The modern person is exposed to “inspiration” constantly, but not a stirring, rousing, thoughtful type of inspiration. There is little poignancy in the cheesy or clichéd sayings home owners paint on their walls and dollar stores sell on posters.

At first, one might take a moment to say “how interesting” or “what an inspirational thought,” but not after being exposed to these nuggets of fool’s gold every day. Where has real inspiration gone?

What Does Inspiration Do?

Maybe that is just the cynic speaking: if a phrase or idea inspires someone, who is to say it is worthless? After all, inspiration is meant to motivate a person and perhaps those cheesy sayings keep dark thoughts at bay: a worthy reason to post or paint them.

A thought will usually give rise to creativity, political change, or some other positive sort of action in order to be deemed “inspiring,” however, and if it is poignant enough the quote will be attributed to someone. The quality of the thought is determined by the result.

Whatever inspired great poets, politicians, and athletes to achieve great things were powerful motives: perhaps they were inspired. Was it a word, a phrase, a religious quote, a person, or just an idea? Whatever the source, it led to a memorable outcome.

What Inspires?

In modern times, most of the popular television shows, movies, and books have been inspired by other movies, books, and TV shows or perhaps something that happened in modern history. Devastating natural disasters spawn fictional depictions which draw much of their substance from reality but focus on characters who are composites of real people.

James Bond is not real but his character is based on one or several secret agents who did exist. In certain instances, biographical stories catch the popular attention such as the young surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack (the movie was Soul Surfer).

TV shows like Breaking Bad get their ideas from things people do in real life: ordinary people, not heroes or famous individuals. Game of Thrones is inspired by violent history while Once Upon a Time takes fairy tales and Disney movies and muddles them together, rejecting traditional interpretations in many cases.

Authors take inspiration from parents’ lives, stories they shared about the old days, politics of the day, and even strange dreams. Readers benefit by discovering books they want to share with their children and grandchildren.

Who is Inspired?

Script and book writers are inspired and we often talk about an inspired piece of work. The result of reading or watching that work is that readers and viewers are also sometimes inspired. That first spark has already resulted in something worthwhile: it led to a creative product; but inspiration continues as people are motivated in the next generation by what they read or see.

Non-fiction films about trans fats, oil spills, and the environment generally motivate people to change their consumer activities, write to corporations, and vote more meaningfully. A tale where someone overcomes adversity inspires a troubled individual to do the same with her life.

A topic might simply interest a viewer or reader so much she decides to pursue studies in engineering or forensic science. Sometimes inspiration is to the benefit of science, politics, or to a huge group of people.

A black woman takes a seat on a bus or a girl sexually assaulted becomes a public speaker and author helping women to rise above their pain and help other women. The proviso here is that people choose to be inspired rather than believing that action is for other people. Sometimes, however, an idea inspires terrible results.

Inspired Evil

Who or what encouraged the terrible monsters of history to act with malice on a huge scale? What caused such evil to come to light? Geneticists would argue that people such as Hitler and Stalin were hardwired to harm others; that the only things they needed were means and opportunity and they would always choose evil over good.

Counselors might argue these men, serial killers, and terrorist leaders came from troubled backgrounds and could have taken a different road if they had been shown more love. Did these men take the lives of millions of people because of something they lacked or were they motivated by the words of an influential person speaker or writer? Can one even refer to their motivation as “inspiration” or does this word carry only a positive connotation?

Meaning of Inspiration

The word can be interpreted to suggest divine intervention or a spiritual experience. It can also be defined in colder terms as merely an “influence.” Poets would say they were inspired by a “muse” who was usually a lover or good friend, but the relationship was not necessarily wholesome.

There is no single answer to the question of whether inspiration is good or bad. All the public knows are the results of those influences, muses, or divine nudges. These results can be termed “inspirational,” “unforgettable,” or “unbelievable.”

We are grateful in many cases because, by choosing to be inspired, artists and thinkers gave us beautiful paintings, sculpture, buildings, and writing. They brought about much-needed political and social change to overcome the influence of evil.