beauty of wrong answers


It’s on the brain because I was inspired recently. And the thing with inspiration is it can’t be given–like directions to the airport. People try. They have ideas about what you’re supposed to like, be healed with, instructed by, and repeat as mantra.

It’s awful.

Bunches offer Jesus and things they got offered over time that are supposed to work. In the hum of polite speak, well intended back pats and veil of safety talk they vote, “It will work out.”

But really I’m often more inspired by people who say, and with no idea what to do about it, “This is yucked up”. Sometimes this is the answer. The permission of no answer can free you up for a different relationship to the question.


Because it matters in business and life what inspires you. Not what’s supposed to, but what does. And it shouldn’t matter where it comes from if you’re made fuller or renewed, and the resonance of the inspiration moves you and the larger world ahead.

I see people trying hard and dutifully to buy into a grand book/recipe of what some other people somewhere said was inspiration or right. And they’re miserable:

  • They trot off to law school because it’s written somewhere it’s a good degree.
  • They marry somebody “right” and uninteresting.
  • But they want to work with people who have questions as well as answers.
  • And they don’t want to work for a firm with a parking lot that size and no space for dreams or questions or real conversations.
  • They want to ask more of governance and family and community.
  • They don’t want to dress like that.
  • They work better at night.

For inspiration to work it has to come  from where you actually find it.


Bible belt roots notwithstanding, I’ve never been inspired by Jesus. I’m not. And I don’t need to explain or apologize or deep massage over it. He’s not interesting to me. I don’t eat hash either. And it’s fine. If I had a ticket to see Jesus I’d give it away.

I’d rather have coffee in a truck stop with John Hammond—former talent scout for Columbia Records with a knack for recording soul singers with strings–one of the best wrong answers American music ever got, and who discovered and first recorded Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin—total blast.

I’d rather fix a flat with Gore Vidal.

I’d rather a bad seat in Joseph Campbell’s class for 50 minutes. Campbell wrongly answered journalist Bill Moyers who, playing devil’s advocate, asked (slight paraphrase) “Hey, you teach mythology and all these Greek gods and stuff–if I’m a student at Sarah Lawrence why should I care about it?” Campbell replied: “You shouldn’t.” He explained nobody should take his classes because somebody said they should. But, he said, if you get caught by it somehow, it may help you. One of the most demanded series in the history of PBS documentaries–Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth that you “shouldn’t” care about.

I’d rather listen to late Senator Robert Byrd–certified West Virginia white trash–talk about his mother’s dreams for what he could be–how he went from Ku Klux Klansman to rolling into the Senate chambers in a wheelchair and near bathrobe to vote for a black President’s healthcare reform bill.

Billie Holiday is at the top of this blog for a reason.  She told the truth.

Leontyne Price–when asked what she most loved to listen to gave a wrong answer: “My own voice. It’s a personal adoration.” And probably why no soprano in the history of opera has had a longer standing ovation than her 42 minute one in 1961 debuting at the Met.

Bishop John Shelby Spong sat calmly as an animated woman of faith blasted him about his beliefs and marrying gays and pro-divorce and pro-choice and bible interpretations and how his actions were destroying the church and were anti-god and she demanded he explain himself and exactly how he had gotten that way. When allowed to speak, Spong gave the wrong answer: “Ma’am, I have four. Grown. Daughters.”

Wrong answers.  It”s why they’re right. They’re from real places.

Inspiration isn’t arduous. It shouldn’t take sweat, deep study or a Ph.D. dissertation. People sit in church with highlighters like it’s freshman World Civ  reading like they’re trying to make it stick–it’s heartbreaking.

Inspiration should make your eyes pop open, your jaw drop, your adrenalin spike, and your dopamine squirt–you shouldn’t be able to forget it. It should wake you up. Your whole life. And absolutely, you and your endeavor on the earth are, to all the real inspiration you can claim, entitled.


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