A few weeks ago, I was strangely fortunate enough to be assigned to read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance,” a very in-depth 14-page philosophical essay. Upon closer examination, I realized the text is so brilliant that I must refer back to it at intervals of time as to not forget what it said. I also spread the word about it, but few people have the time or patience to take the hour to read it properly. I cannot do it justice by summarizing, however, I would be happy to even touch a little bit on its ideas.
At the core of the text is the urgent call to be unique by submitting to your calling. Emerson’s proper person is one which is the least hindered by society, as he says “whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist” because “society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.” According to him, in modern day, we hold people of the past, such as George Washington, in such high esteem because they have exhibited honor we do not feel we are capable of in the present day. “Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright ; he dares not say ‘I think,”I am,” but quotes some saint or sage.” But Emerson believes, that we do not give ourselves enough credit. The humans of yesterday are no more brilliant than those of today. Perhaps many today have succumbed to trying to extinguish their passions or to conform with what they see. We more so hold the idea that one must be educated and aged to be able to say anything of value. But we are simply not giving ourselves enough credit. For example “infancy conforms to nobody; all conform to it,” in speaking of the way children can gain command of a room with their unique and alive manner, a way few adults can.
But for now remember to “Insist on yourself; never imitate.” and “Do not believe it. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.”