Inspiring Versus Engaging

We all love the feeling of being inspired. But what does it mean to be inspired?

Millions of people have listened to inspirational speakers and felt as though they could take on the World with impunity. They watch a great TED Talk, or buy tickets to a Tony Robbins event, or witness something that gives them that feeling of “I’m gonna go out and do something with my life!”

Thing is, it stops there. Being inspired is akin to getting your cocaine, heroin, nicotine, or gambling fix. It’s a goodie-good feeling of goodness that masks people’s lacklustre lives.

Inspirational moments are fleeting moments and have a terrible efficiency rating when it comes to instigating change. Those inspired people will go home, watch re-runs of The Bachelor and generally complain about Monday mornings.

That’s why I find it is important to differentiate between “Inspiring” and “Engaging.” Something that is inspirational is just a feeling. Being engaging implies and often leads to action.

I acknowledged that a person/speech/presentation can both be inspiring and engaging. For example, I was inspired by Dave Meslin’s TED Talk on apathy many years ago, but he also managed to engage me into something that was so much bigger: The terrible marketing that surrounds Civic Engagement. This engagement eventually led to the Open Government Tour.

Yet one more example is George Carlin’s rant “I’m a modern man.” I love that rant. I find it inspirational because the man is a freakin’ philosopher cleverly disguised as a comedian who only needed 3.5 minutes to cynically and poetically describe our societal values. His rant resulted in me developing (and living) the Principles for Leading an Open Life.

I eventually created my own rant entitled “We are open people” whose purpose is to capture the values of an Open Society (as an answer to George’s cynical perspective).

I realize that I’m unique. There aren’t many people who are as easily engaged as I am. My beef isn’t about unengaged people. It is about how we put so much value in the term “inspirational.” In my limited experience, being inspired does not generally result in action.

Think about all those people that tweet out inspirational quotes. I mean, we would have World Peace if we all actually acted on those quotes! People would be kind and happy! Empathy would rule the day!

But we don’t have that. For the most part, all those “inspirational” quotes are a façade mocking our selfish society. That’s why when people tell me “I was inspired by that!” I ask them: “OK, what are you gonna do now?”

…and I usually get blank faces.


Richard PietroRichard Pietro considers himself as an Open Government Fanboy in an attempt to create Civic Engagement as Art. Richard’s Twitter handle is @richardpietro and you can learn more about his work at


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