By now, you’ve probably heard about the man with muscular dystrophy who, determined to complete a marathon, crossed the finish line 20 hours after he started. I’ve heard a lot of reactions to this: “Inspiring!” “Heroic!” “Amazing!” And do I agree that this is amazing? Of course. In fact, I think ANY ONE who commits to running a marathon is inspiring. But this guy was pretty cool because I’m all about doing stuff that people think you can’t do, defying the odds, etc.
Something struck me though, listening to the radio this morning. On 101.7 The Bull, the host went on to explain the story, as a “Tell me Somethin’ Good!” story. Then, the co-host went on to do something that people may not realize they do fairly often: get “inspiration” from someone who “Can’t do something” or “Isn’t lucky enough to have legs” or “Wishes they could get up in the morning and do yoga” or “Has it worse than you do.”I believe her exact words were something like, “You know, when I get up in the morning and I don’t want to go to yoga, I think about people who CAN’T do yoga. And I do it for them! Because some people just wish they could get up and go to yoga. But they can’t. So I go.” And then the host went on “Every day is a good day because someone has it worse than you.” (And the rocky soundtrack was playing in the background)
This is where I get uncomfortable.
People have called me inspirational a lot of times in my life. Most of the time, I don’t take offense to it. They’ll say it’s because I run even though I have trouble breathing, inspiring them to not make excuses. Okay, that’s fair, I think? They’ll say it’s because I have a positive attitude despite going through what I do.. Okay, that’s fair… although I do like to point out that I don’t view my life as very hard because it’s become so second nature to me. And I do like to point out that it’s okay to complain about your cough because being sick does, in fact, suck. It’s okay, in my eyes, for you to be inspired when someone does something that pushes the limit, that seems impossible, that requires a lot of effort and determination and is not the norm. So, alright, if my running, and positive attitude, and resulting good health inspires you to be healthy too… great!
But, I get uncomfortable when people call me inspiring for living my life day to day, doing nothing incredibly special other than having a life-threatening illness…because that means it reminds them how easy their life is. It reminds them that they could have it worse. That makes me uncomfortable. That’s called pity, and most people with disabilities or chronic illnesses hate pity.
When you garner inspiration from people who “have it worse than you do” you’re drawing attention to the things they cannot do. We all have limitations, disability or not. I can’t speak for every person with a disability, but our limitations are something we eventually come to terms with and deal with in our own unique ways. Though, lately, I tend to avoid things like outdoor concerts because I can’t handle the smoke, I would hardly expect someone to go to a concert and say “I’m doing this for Lauren, because of her poor lungs.” Because, if I really wanted to, I’d go to that damn concert with a mask on and dance my pants off.
We have found ways of living with our limitations.
So going to your yoga class and appreciating your legs is great! But don’t say you’re doing it for the people without legs, whose lives are “so much worse” than yours.
Find your inspiration in our determination, not in our difficulties. Find your inspiration in our attitudes and our resiliency, not in the things that happen to us. Be inspired to make changes to your own life, not because someone has it worse than you, but because we’re all human and we all must overcome life’s struggles, in our own ways.