The Philia Proposal continued

I would like to define inspiration as a source of energy that flows from a deep sense of agency and responsibility grounded in the intellectual and emotional conviction that one’s soul is attuned in spiritual unity with the wide universe. Because of that, our selves, our actions as well as those of others matter in ways that we cannot ever fully grasp or explain. Motivation is what is left of inspiration when acknowledgement of mystery is eschewed and when there is no longer belief in an inner source of action and responsibility. In its contemporary version, it rests on two disconnected elements: borrowing from the idealist tradition, it attempts to influence beliefs and engage emotions by defining moral ideals with the language of rational argument; drawing from the materialist tradition, it looks for external means and stimuli to condition the desired behavioural response. One could say that motivation is to inspiration what an hour on the treadmill is to a brisk hike up a mountain trail: a powerful, concentrated but impoverished and one-dimensional version of life’s complex reality. We are short of moral oxygen, I think, because we confuse motivation with real inspiration.

Finding a source of real inspiration will require a vision of life that embraces modern science, contemporary moral ideals, as well as the reality of suffering and tragedy. I have found in the writing of Simone Weil a vision that, I believe, can carry us through in those moments when contact with suffering calls us to summits of moral life.

Weil is clearly within the modern materialist tradition in believing that human beings and communities are subject to the inflexible rule of material causes. But she sees this rigid order of things suffused with something akin to the smile of a loved one : Beauty. The experience of the beauty of nature, of artistic creation and of human beings, nurtures love and compassion and holds out the promise that, through the strength of persuasion, Good will ultimately come to rule over Necessity. With respect to death and tragedy, Weil thinks that, much as hurricanes do not take away from the beauty of the world, the turbulence within that we call suffering, tragedy or loss does not debase the dignity or beauty of human life, because this dignity is not grounded in material causes nor in will-power or reason, but in something more divine and universal.

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