What happens when our “inspirers” fall? Do their words fall with them?
I was thinking about this recently when I was trying to remember a quote that had inspired me. It was Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity.
“The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.”
I wrongly attributed it to Bill Cosby, because he had once said something that felt similar, yet different. (Interestingly, Einstein may not have said it either, as this brief article explains.) The Cosby quote was:
“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”
See? Similar, but different. Well, in my mind anyway. I love both of those quotes. I also love Kevin Spacey’s quote about what it means to help others when you’ve had success.
“If you’re lucky enough to do well, it’s your responsibility to send the elevator back down.”
And this is where I got stuck as I meandered down the rabbit hole of inspirational words. Both Kevin Spacey and Bill Cosby have fallen from grace. I wouldn’t label either one as a mentor or leader, or even an inspirer, anymore. And yet…
And yet, at some point in time, they were. They were inspired by simple truths and in so being, they shared that inspiration in their words to inspire others. Does their fall mean their words fall with them? Are their words less inspiring, because of their actions?
I’m not sure I know the answer to this – or rather, I’m not sure there is only one answer to this. I think many people will think and feel differently about it – and that’s 100% correct. Why? Because inspiration is highly individualized. While there is a lot of overlap, there is also a lot of individuation. For example, someone shared something with me recently that they found to be “life-changing” and they couldn’t understand why I didn’t. I didn’t because it wasn’t meant for me. It was meant for them to hear in that particular moment in that particular way on their journey. Inspiration.
My friend, Tom, once shared the best words of wisdom with me, because they were exactly what I needed at that time. He said, “There’s nothing ‘new’ in what people are saying, in what you’re saying, it’s all been said before for millennia. What’s new about you, is how you’re saying it. You say it in your own way, which is inspiring to those who need to hear it… that way.” I have paraphrased him, of course, because it was many years ago. But it was perfect. It was perfect, because it was exactly what I needed to hear. I have since shared those words with others, and it has both fallen flat and empowered. So, yes, inspiration is unique to everybody.
But, I also think inspiration, at its core, is brought forth from something outside ourselves. As such, if it’s palpable, it probably outlives its human source eventually… as it should.
Nobody truly owns the inspiration they’ve been gifted to share, even with all the intellectual property laws we have. As Tom said, there’s nothing truly new in the field of inspiration – only new ways of saying it. So even though it would be nice to say “those are my words,” the truth is more accurately stated: I was gifted with those words to share, to inspire, and to help. So, it was my responsibility and my opportunity to speak them, the way that I did, to meet that end in that moment.
Which brings me back to Cosby and Spacey. If we can separate out the words – the inspiration – from the human, we might be able to answer the question “When the mighty fall, do their inspired words fall with them?” with a simple: No, not if they inspire you.