A few weeks back at a speech I did at a middle school, a fellow wheelchair-user asked me this question:
“Do you ever get bothered by people who refer to you as inspiring to them? Why or why not?”
I hear this a lot from some of my peers. That they’re bothered by that term because it feels like a pity gesture or that it’s a slap in the face type thing. Then again, there are some (myself included) that are perfectly okay with that term being used.
In my opinion, whilst I don’t believe that inspiration should be a word used as a pity term, my line of work has shown that there is most definitely a different way of looking at this debate. I get called an inspiration every day (or at least every day that I have a speech) and at first, it was a tad uncomfortable because I didn’t feel like anything too spectacular. Then I realized that, for my audience members, it’s not just about me being able to get up in the morning and live. It’s about them being able to relate to the struggles that I’ve experienced and the obstacles I’ve overcome that have nothing to do with the chair.
After five years, when someone comes up to me and shares their story, calling me their inspiration, I’m flattered beyond words. I get people who are suicidal that come up to me and say, “You saved my life.” I get people who, after hearing my story, aren’t afraid to stand out or speak up.
If helping someone become the best version of themselves or helping someone realize that they deserve another day is what makes me an inspiration, then so be it. All I want is to be there for people and give them the courtesy that I wasn’t always given: the courtesy of a helping hand, kind words, and an open heart.
I guess you could make an argument saying that being an inspiration is offensive, but sometimes it’s not always because of a wheelchair. It could be your confidence, your smile, or your positivity. So, take a step back and try to see it differently. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll surprise yourself.