The Words that Can’t Be Measured

Life is built on these.

Photo by author

I find myself hungry for inspiration. I know it’s all around me in the actions of quiet everyday heroes. And yet, one of the realities is that these people, by their very nature, are quiet. We seldom hear their stories of courage, selfless giving, forgiveness, and more, unless we’re close enough to the situation to know the narrative firsthand. Most work-a-day heroes think they’re no different from other people, don’t know what the fuss is all about if you try to acknowledge them.

In fact, that’s part of their charm and their gift. They’re just doing what comes naturally.

Though I know these heroes are out there, I’m also hungry for inspiration in the public square. We’ve gone through so much collective trauma in the last year. I’m beyond ready for someone to take a microphone and challenge us, collectively, to be our best selves. To do our part, to do the right thing, whatever we believe that to be. I need voices like ones from the past, who called on people in hard times to stand up, rise to the challenge, to serve and lead and exemplify the best of humanity: to put our best selves forward.

I don’t think I’m alone in this; I think most people hunger for the same thing.

I know we’re tired, as a group. Whether we think of ourselves on a global level, a national level, or come down to who’s sharing living space with us, we’re weary. There’s no getting around that.

And that’s exactly why we need a verbal shot in the arm. As much as we need the Covid vaccine in our physical arms, we need inspiration to keep going, to keep our hearts in the game.

My husband* has a succinct way of describing these words of inspiration, words so meaningful that they’re an instant conduit for everything that calls to the best in us. He calls them “the words that can’t be measured.”

Winston Churchill said “All the greatest things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom; justice; honour; duty; mercy; hope.”

And I agree. These are words I love:

Courage. Honor. Grace. Love. Hope. Purpose. Faith. Commitment. Freedom. Forgiveness. Redemption. Truth. Compassion. Duty. Loyalty. Friendship. Gratitude. Generosity. Beauty. Humility. Perseverance. Strength. Peace. Light. Mercy. Justice. Excellence.

My list isn’t exhaustive, it’s representative. Someone else might add or subtract from the words that speak to me. Words that can’t be measured are at the heart of all that makes life sweet and worth living. Sometimes they attach to concrete meanings, concrete acts; at other times they represent a concept, a goal, an aspiration. As Churchill said, these words combine both great and simple ideals. They’re fundamental to the good life. Sometimes we receive them, sometimes we live them.

I don’t need anyone to think for me. But I do want to be empowered and encouraged and challenged. I want to witness inspired action, see men and women who not only expect great things from the public, but who live up to the standards they ask of others. I’m searching for people who know how to use these words, and keep their word as well.

The real question is: whom do we trust, in these days of division and disillusionment? Who is there to speak to us, to speak for us? I’m not sure we have universal figures, respected and beloved by all today. Maybe we know too much about everyone. The internet and social media have allowed us to see that we all have feet of clay.

Well, we’re human, we literally can’t help ourselves…we can’t be perfect, not now, not ever. But we can try to live up to the powerful words that mean so much. We can hold ourselves to the standards we long for. We can teach our children the meaning and the grandeur of these words. And we can offer compassion, to ourselves and to others, when we fail.

It seems ironic to me: at a time in history when we have communication platforms that allow almost universal connection, those tools often seem to be damaging rather than helping. I grant you that there are people speaking out. The problem is that most public figures are seen as aligned with one group or another, one party or another, and social standing, race, cultural issues…these distinctions overshadow everything, seem to divide us more rather than bring us together.

In the midst of our social media struggles…the angst over the place of technology in our lives, privacy concerns, cancel culture, the whole lot of our current conversations, I look for stories of the quiet heroes among us. It may be that ultimately, this isn’t the time for big, larger-than-life voices. Maybe it’s the time of the individual, and the technology that allows us to be connected will also allow us to know more of the everyday stories from the down-to-earth souls doing the work of angels. And by angels, I mean the best of us humans, those who think and act beyond themselves, who give us hope, even if it’s on a small scale.

My other grounding is rooted in voices from the past.

I know, because history tells us so, that many people who are beloved and revered today were not always so highly valued in their time. Churchill, Gandhi, Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King Jr., Lincoln, Mother Teresa…these are only a sampling of so many great figures who were not fully appreciated in their era, or were even martyrs for their convictions. Maybe that’s the real takeaway here. Time has revealed their wisdom. With the clarity of hindsight, we read their words, we hear their speeches, often seeing those moments of history through grainy black and white films or photos, and we think, “If only!”

The truth is, we might not be able to hear their words if they were speaking today. The wisdom of past leaders becomes more evident over time because the issues that birthed the words have resolved, and we’re able to absorb the power and brilliance of what was said with the knowledge of how the story played out. These were far-seeing souls who understood the big picture and had a clear vision.

The saying goes that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. The issues of earlier generations were not exactly the same as we face today. And yet there are similarities, and words that resonate from long ago. Maybe they can still speak to us in 2021.

I sometimes feel lost, trying to make sense of life, keeping up with the twists and turns and pace of movement. But when I stand close enough to those I respect, whether they’re living now, or giants from long ago, some of their insight and courage rubs off on me, and I’m better for it.

We have difficult issues to confront and differences of opinion to resolve: as a country, in our multi-cultures, as human beings. As we wrestle with beliefs and answers, we can look for encouragement in the stories happening around us: you may be surprised by the heroes within your circle. And we can look to heroes from the past for clarity and wisdom. Look for words that can’t be measured, for those voices that inspire and endure and challenge. We’re looking to absorb hope, and listening for the rhyme of history.

*”words that can’t be measured” — Robert Gibson, MD.




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Sheila Gibson

Sheila Gibson — Author + life purpose wisdom for drifting souls. Joy spreader; Dragon slayer on occasion. @Sheilalgibson

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