May 22, 2008

"Inspire, Don't Require"

By Kari Diane Pike

(Marsha, if you hadn’t sent the link to the Six LDS Writer’s and a Frog blog, this post would have been posted many hours sooner.)

During the October, 2007 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Dalin Oaks gave a wonderful talk titled “Good, Better, Best”. Since then, I have listened to and participated in several lively discussions about determining what defines good, better, and best and how we can apply that in our lives.

During a dinner table discussion with my children, the opportunity came up to share and teach the concept of good, better, and best. Grade reports had been sent home and our 15-year-old daughter had dropped from having an “A” in English, to a “B”. When I asked her about the reasons for the drop in her grade, she became quite defensive and flat out told me that a “B” is above average and so it was good enough. Lots of her friends were struggling to just pass, so she felt like getting a “B” was no big deal. Of course a lively discussion ensued. (I’ll leave that to your imagination…hint…her Dad’s countenance was not exactly full of light. His thinking is if she could send and receive 9975 text messages in a 28 day period, she has time to get an “A” in English.) Anyway…during a Relief Society lesson the next Sunday, I asked for input as to how to teach our children to recognize and choose between good, better, and best, while the world teaches them that whatever they do is “good enough,” just as long as they "pass." After the meeting ended, a beautiful young woman, Kara, approached me. She was home on break from her studies at George Wythe University. Her eyes glittered with tears as she said,

“Sister Pike, can I share a thought with you? I have known you since I was a little girl and I have learned so much from you. I want to tell you what I learned at school that I think will help you understand how to help your children. You have helped me so much, and I feel so excited to be able to share something that will help you. Our university president often gives the morning devotionals himself. Recently he spoke to the student body about these three words. ‘Inspire, don’t require.’ I don’t think I need to really explain it to you…I know you understand. Its right in the scriptures, isn’t it? Isn’t that the Lord’s plan?”

Wow. And little did I know how well those three words would serve in the days to come. I knew something bothered me about one of the new teachers at our youngest son’s school and I hadn’t been able to put my finger on it. I saw my son losing his spark and enthusiasm about learning and being challenged. Instead of spending extra time on assignments and looking for extra projects, he began writing yes and no answers and asking to play more video games. Then I read as essay he wrote for another class.

“Mrs. _____, former teacher of mine, is an exceptional relationer, extraordinarily well-experienced teacher, and her ideas were ‘oohed’ and ‘awed’ at by the class. Mrs.____, my current teacher, though okay and has her good moments now and then, is a bit too old school. (You know, 1 whisper = time out / chick=young lady I barely slouch = sit straight up) She’s good at teaching, don’t get me wrong, but her style and taste just don’t work out with me, unlike that of Mrs. _____.” Levi goes on the explain how the new teacher always tells the kids she has to teach by the assessment so she can’t give them “free days” the way the previous teacher did. “Mrs. _____ would let us have a free-day but, while we were playing, she would teach us about what we were doing.”

This became my “Aha!” moment. As I reviewed the school year, I could see the pattern clearly and I recognized what bothered me so much. The new teacher “requires” more than she “inspires.” She was so caught up in keeping to “the rules” and teaching to the “assessments” that she forgot about her students’ needs to learn how to learn and how to discover joy in the process. Her teaching is “good.” Her students are learning facts. But her teaching could be the “best” and her students could be inspired to learn how to ask questions and find answers.

Perhaps I’m stretching things a bit, but I can see how we can apply this to our writing as well. How often do we let “writing to the rules” diminish our joy of writing words? How often do we settle for writing something good, when we could have been writing our best? Do we look for inspiration or do we just give the facts?

Where do you find your inspiration as you write? Can our writing be a source of inspiration, even when we are writing fiction? Should it?


  1. You certainly have opened a can of worms, Kari. I must admit when it comes to my writing, good enough is indeed good enough. I like following the rules of a specific genre I write in because as a consumer I want to read the traditional plot. I'm glad there's room for both of us in the world of writing.

  2. I didn't mean to open a can of worms. I just truly want to learn from all of you. That's why i asked the questions. I didn't mean to offend.

  3. Isn't humor a good inspiration for writing? It's also a good antidote for what ails us. That's why I sent you all the link.

  4. An inspiring and thought-provoking blog, Kari. I think we can all recognize "best" writing within genres. On the other hand, when do we sit back and say, wow, this is my best writing?
    About writing being inspiring - what is the purpose of the writing?
    I recently, in writing my memoir, wrote the following: . . . I escaped into imagination where beautiful horses ran faster than the wind and courage and endurance carried you to the winner's circle. I thank every aurhot who influenced my life and provided escape, who wrote about dignity of spirit, bravery and squaring off with adventure.
    I know I am grateful for all the inspirational writing I have read. Thanks, Rene

  5. To me, fiction can be "inspiring", even when it's not pointedly "inspirational". I do most of my fiction reading at bedtime, and after living through all the sometimes "hard realities" of the day, a few moments of pure escapism is exactly what my spirit and emotions need. Books that let me lose myself completely in the story are "inspiring" to me. Books that make me cringe over language, attempt to skim over graphic, immoral images, etc, quickly sap the "inspiration" away, making me work too hard to try to enjoy the story without filling my mind with stuff I don't want there. I honestly have no "high, inspirational" goals for my writing. But if I can offer someone the kind of escape I crave at night, where they can simply relax and read and (hopefully) enjoy, without holding their breath for some unexpected "dropping of a shoe " (language, sex scene, fill in the blank) at the turn of a page, then that's all I really want to accomplish. (I would like to try to use my "best" writing to achieve that, though.)

  6. Humor,adventure, I love it. I see so many of you with such wonderful gifts to share. There are many reasons to write and I want to write my best in whatever genre I choose. I watched a movie today that had such a powerful message I was moved to tears...and I realized that I want to write something that powerful. Then I thought about humor, as Marsha pointed out. I want to bring smiles to people...not tears...unless they are tears of joy!

  7. You did not offend me. I just meant that'a can of worms we discuss a lot in my magazine editorial room and have as many opinions as we do editors, ha. I think it's a great and timely issue. Well done for opening it up.

  8. I really like, "Inspire, don't require." I would love to inspire others with my writing.

    P.S. Kari--if you want a list of books by LDS authors you can go to and on the right side is a list of all books eligible for a Whitney Award, including LDS authors with national books.

  9. DeMille is full of it. The rule should be "Inspire AND Require." There is a lot to be said for both.


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