In a letter to a friend, Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1771: “When any . . . act of charity or of gratitude, for instance, is presented either to our sight or imagination, we are deeply impressed with its beauty and feel a strong desire in ourselves of doing charitable and grateful acts also.”
Jefferson thought this was as true in real life as it was in stories written and told. Jefferson continues, discussing the reader’s reaction to stories of this kind. He asks, does the story not “dilate [the reader’s] breast and elevate his sentiments as much as any similar incident which real history can furnish? Does [the reader] not in fact feel himself a better man while reading them, and privately covenant to copy the fair example?”
Jonathan Haidt points to this quote in his book, The Happiness Hypothesis, referring to Jefferson’s feeling as one of “elevation.” I explored a personal experience of this feeling in this post on a recent volunteer travel experience. Here, I’d like to discuss the feeling more as it relates to the second quote above – whether it is demonstrated through story, writing, or video.
The feeling to which Jefferson is referring tends to remind me of my humanity, inspires me to transcend it, and instills in me the confidence that I can.
And the sources of this inspiration are plentiful. They can be hidden in any place – even places of levity.
Now some would probably say that this confidence is unfounded and dangerous. Better to be “realistic.” Perhaps they think it causes “excessive happiness.” Perhaps they are right.
However, it seems to me that those people are often sitting on a panel somewhere, not allowing Cuba Gooding to become a navy diver with one bionic leg. They tend not to be the man Cuba was playing. And is it not the “Carl Brashears” that are pushing the world forward? Or at least the ones that inspire the greatest amount of positive actions and reactions?
It recalls to mind that George Bernard Shaw quote: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
Of course, I am not saying that there is no place for being realistic or mitigating your down side as Adam Grant notes. I am saying that there are also times where this perceived reasoning and analysis has proven, at least for me, to do more harm then good. Times when I simply need to snap out of the blinding funnel of my mind.
I tend to actively seek out these displays of inspiration and hoard them. I keep that at the ready to be able to use in times when I am down, to pick me back up. And in times of alacrity to propel me further still. I use them to demonstrate to others who ask – but mostly to remind myself.
And I needed them badly about 18 months back…
“I guess I sort of expected you to be different,” she said, a bit hesitantly.
She was one of my first-ever dates via mobile app (i.e. Classically romantic) and we were sitting opposite a setting, early-summer sun on Manhattan’s West-Side Highway. For me, a staple date locashe for casual fare, beer, wine and light acoustic music. (Hello, ladies!)
But this response had me off-guard.
I had asked her whether or not “I was what she thought I was” – having seen only my dating-app profile.
The response was not what I was expecting – but I instinctively attempted not to show it. I put on a coy face and urged her, playfully, to elaborate. A familiar defense for me.
She didn’t buy it. “I don’t know, I mean you do look like your pictures… but…,” She continued to hesitate. “I mean, it’s not a bad thing…”
“But what?! You can say it, trust me, I won’t get offended!”
“I can’t now, I don’t want you to feel awkward.”
“Oh come on – you have to say it now! You can’t just-
“YOU’RE JUST SO SERIOUS!,” she blurted out.
Now embarrassed and incredulous, I demanded justification. “SERIOUSLY(?),” I pressed her, “if anything I usually get that I am too jokey.”
“OK, well, not to me. I mean in your pictures you look that way – but here – I don’t know…
…I just thought you’d smile more…”
At this point, my defensiveness dissipated and a very uncomfortable feeling overtook me as I recoiled back into my chair.
Two things occurred to me: (1) she was probably right and (2) that disguise I usually depended on had melted off like face paint. (Well, actually a third thing also occurred to me – but I fought it off.)
In fact, I had known this to be true for several months now – but only in private. I preferred it to be hidden.
But even once I acknowledged its presence, I still, sheepishly, blamed it on external factors – job, circumstance, etc. Deflecting blame from the true culprit – me.
Since the early spring I had been in my head. I had been thinking about my current state of affairs and searching for any purpose or interest – and coming up hopelessly empty.
My current state was this: whether day-job or side project I felt busy, but purposelessly so. I had sustained a few injuries, including one to my neck which prevented me from my typically rigorous workouts or playing the sports I loved and depended on for an outlet. I was seeing less movies and even less friends. And each thing perpetuated the next.
Perhaps the worst symptom- I cancelled a string of summer trips: one, an annual trip out to Chicago and Wisconsin, the other a volunteer trip in Spain that went up in flames in one of the most paralyzing mental experiences of my life. Given that traveling is my single favorite activity – this was an immediate red flag.
Now weeks after that boiling point episode, I was still wearing a serious look on my face. And though this date did not quite last (surprising, I know), it did leave a lasting impression: a change needed to come, and fast.
Along the way, throughout the last 18 months, I used many avenues for remedy: meditation, physical recovery and exercise, travel, play, writing, reading, friends and family. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, this is not to say that I have “arrived” at this point – but I am much further along then that day in late June 2015.
Ever since then – I will frequently – on those days where I just do not feel like getting out of bed. Or those evenings where I feel lonely or off course – or just plain off– I watch and read various sources for inspiration.
Additionally, I just watch them for pure enjoyment and exasperation of the positive.
In doing so, I’ve accumulated quite a file of inspiring videos that I find most helpful. Below are 15 of those videos. I hope you enjoy.
* * *
- Arnold’s Six Rules (4:30). Funny as his accent is, the man has repeatedly smashed social convention and reached his (very lofty) goals. Many people don’t realize he was also a real estate tycoon (coming from zero experience) in addition to transforming the body building world, becoming the top-billing actor in Hollywood, and, of course, the Govenator. He is your daddy and this is what he do…
- David Foster Wallace: “This is Water” (8:30). For those who do not know, Foster Wallace was an extremely acclaimed author and essayist prior to his early death. It seems impossible not to be emotionally overcome by this video. Not by anything sad – but by something that seems too obviously true yet rarely seen. As DFW says in the speech – it is “hiding in plain sight.”
This video was made following the commencement speech of which these words were originally apart. The whole speech is worth it – but this video is indispensable.
- Jim Carrey – Love over Fear (3:30). If you know me, you’re aware of my worship of the all-world actor. You might be thinking, “I thought you were supposed to be always funny, Mr Ventura”… And so you may not be aware of his warm, insightful, inspiring and serious side. This is a sort of short mash-up of a longer speech.
This is the whole speech (~20min). The whole thing is indispensable to me, but if you only have a few extra minutes watch from about 9:30 to 12 minutes. You won’t regret it. Trust me.
- Taylor Mali – What Do Teacher’s Make? (3:30). Teacher or not, ever single person reading this can identify with this speech. If you’re heart rate doesn’t elevate and/or you do not write a thank you to those special teachers that have touched your life or helped make you who you are – Or, better yet, provided a model for what you still want to become — Id be absolutely shocked.
- Shane Koyczan – To This Day (7 min). For anyone who has ever felt stepped on, or known someone that has been stepped on, unfairly put down or criticized or made to feel small –this video might make you cry.
For everyone else, watching this might improve your empathetic perspective – I know it reminds me every time I watch it.
Or to simply just to witness great and courages art.
Either way, I’m pretty sure it’s better than spending that 7 minutes checking your BFF’s trite pic with that clearly sedated tiger in Thailand. Could you be less original!?
- Steve Jobs (of course) –— The Last Day of My Life (2min). It is probably worth it to watch this video every single day for the rest of my life. I feel as though what he is saying is true yet so easy to forget. I think maybe I forget it on purpose – because it is scary. But upon reflection, it is scarier to forget it.
- Scott Klososky – The Inner Net – (`~8 Min). To me, as inspiring for its message as its art-ification.
- Denzel – Dreams Without Goals – (~4min). Denzel is the man.
- Seth Godin – A Note Worth Playing (3:35). I’d need another list to cover just Seth Godin. This is a good primer.
- Jimmy V – Laugh. Think. Cry. (1:24). Never really saw him coach. But I’ve seen his videos countless times. Words from a dying but somehow hopeful man.
- Tony Robbins – Feed Your Mind. (4:11). If you only know Tony as “Banana Hands” from Shallow Hal – I strongly urge you to change that.
- Oprah – Control How you React (~10min). As your boy Marcus Aurelius said: “reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears.”
- Big Willy Style – Running and Reading. (2 min). Don’t be fooled by his early, funny days. The Rapper, Actor, Comedian, Superhero, and, now, Motivator. What can he not do? A concise reminder of how to overcome obstacles.
If you want more Will (as if I have to ask!), here is a longer version based on similar principles of hard work and learning (10 min). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5nVqeVhgQE
- Moonshot Thinking (3:46). No need to describe. Just watch. Then repeat.
- Little Kid: On the Importance of Practice. As ya boy, A.I., once said: We talkin’ bout practice.
Hope you enjoyed these. As always, all comments appreciated.