Self-reliance is an essay that seeks to encourage an individual to believe in him or herself. Written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, the essay begins with a warning to listen and believe in oneself. In the article, he continuously uses the phrases thyself to reiterate on the message he is trying to get across of individuals finding themselves. Emerson believes that when an individual believes in his or her efforts, it brings out the genius in them. Consequently, this includes opening one’s thoughts desires and passion and actively following them.
The essay is based on a religious belief that God is the creator of humankind and as such He created each human being equally. Thus, everyone can think and act independently. However, this can only be achieved when individuals are in a state of loneliness when there are no interruptions from outside sources. A person can only hear the voice of God when he or she is listening to himself. Furthermore, Waldo defines genius as believing in one’s thought is to believe what the heart wants. The essay provides examples of successful people who trusted their thought such as Plato, Moses, and Milton. Notably, these individuals ignored the distractions and ignorance of the world and trusted their own views, and that is why they were successful.
The essay ends by emphasizing the importance of self-worth. Waldo states that a timid man cannot be upright because he addresses other people’s ideas and not his own. On the contrary, people who trust in themselves view themselves in the same light as the most successful people in history. Therefore, when an individual is self-reliant, he begins the journey to success. Emerson indicate that while there is always an inner voice that reminds people of who they are and their uniqueness, the voice is often dimmed by the noise in the world. It is usually a scenario that seems like a conspiracy against self by other people. In the words of Emerson, the world is like a joint stock company. Nevertheless, even in such scenarios, the goal of the society would be to focus on its well-being rather than focusing on the unique attributes of the individuals. As a result, it is true that people should focus on doing what interests them as compared to doing what others emphasize. Individuals better understand their potential and unique talents in them. As a result, listening to others and not exploiting ones potential is wrong. While this does not imply that people should not listen to others, it means that such individuals should also be provided with an opportunity to exploit their unique capabilities.
Just like Emerson indicates, people need to follow others only if the instructions they pass from them are relevant. Churches are important areas where Christians worship God. In spite of this follow the teachings that do not operate in line with the bible teachings would be wrong. People should follow the actions of others only if such actions are right. When people conform to the actions of others without proper reasoning, they lose their unique self. It thus becomes difficult to identify the real identity of such people.
The society sets to set the social standards it follows. Emerson is very clear that people should avoid conforming to irrelevant social standards and set their standards. Self-trust is an essential element that promotes self-reliance. While failing to comply has many social repercussions the eventual benefits are many. The bible is presented in a manner that presents values and emphasizes that in some cases seems to contradict. For instance, the Old Testament is presented as one that emphasized a God who seeks justice. In the quest for such truth, many people were killed. This notion has been significantly killed by the New Testament which tries to present God as one who is driven by mercy. In spite of this, the sanctity of human self-have remained intact. The indication is that the inner self of people defines the connection of people with God as opposed to the writings of a few people in the bible as Emerson (17) indicates.
A key point presented by Emerson is the tendency of people to quote higher entities. For instance, a Christian may quote the saying of a saint to justify their actions. This approach to social interaction indicates mistrust of oneself. Human beings tend to be timid and fail to believe in themselves, often seeking validation from society. While many scientists who tend to defy some biblical accounts based on a view individuals such as apostles are viewed in negative by the community, Emerson indicates that their actions indicate self-trust. Emerson (4) suggest that ‘for nonconformity, the world whips you with displeasure’. What Paul or Peter said in the bible is not enough to disregard self as it is a supreme cause, which is often faced with lower and upper forms that often define it. It is thus important to rise against what society holds as the truth, yet it is pure deception. Emerson (23) indicates, ‘pluralist phenomena of Christianity’ was influenced by the culture of the Athens and other societies where it was developed and hence it cannot be taken as an overriding factor of the sanctity and holiness of self. The beliefs even of the closest family members should only define people if they are reasonable. This is evident in the bible when Jesus asked his followers to abandon everything including their families and follow them. According to Callaghan (28), all people were created in the likeness of God. As a result, they should all be treated with dignity. Their perceptions and views regarding the world should thus also be respected. This indicates that when people fail to believe in themselves and seek validation from others, they are doing the wrong thing. The bible does not differentiate people on the basis of their elitism but views all as equal. It is thus self-demeaning for people to ignore their views and merely focus on the views of others.
Lack of trust for self is presented by Emerson as the key reason that people borrow cultures from elsewhere. They imitate mode of dressing, behavior and many other things that eventually eliminate their original self. Nevertheless, the emphasis by Emerson that people should always believe in themselves and never imitate others may not always be the truth. It is evident that human beings differ in terms of their cognitive capabilities. There is always a chance to learn something new. When Emerson indicates that travelling across the globe and imitating Emerson is wrong, the view also presents half-truth. For instance, there are many doctors in developing countries that have been trained by their counterparts from developed countries. This training has equipped such doctors with knowledge and skill to treat the sick in such countries. Arguing that such doctors should not learn and imitate the doctors from the other countries would thus be wrong.
According to Callaghan (29), people should focus on the culture of righteousness versus guilt as opposed to focusing on a culture that emphasizes on shame versus honor. Associating honor rather than righteousness to God is wrong. While many people may be honored in society because of doing exactly what society wants, righteousness occurs when people act as per the desire of God.
The view by Emerson that people should be valued on who they are rather than what they have is very true. As Emerson indicates, virtues and individual potential are more important than property. People may acquire property but would not be fully satisfied with such property if actually, such property was acquired through theft. Emerson indicates the importance of doing away with half-truths. What people view as being good may actually be the wrong thing. For instance, helping others with goods gained through theft may seem right since they do not know it, yet it is all but fruits of the wrongs that such person did. According to Callaghan (29), some religions are of the view that the holiness and sanctity of life should not be interfered with. In spite of this, the social standards do not uphold this. Some societies engage in abortion even though know the holiness of such innocent life. The society is of the view that people should be provided with rights including the freedom to bring the life of innocent lives to an end. When individuals conform to such views in order to please society, they end up taking the wrong direction. It is thus essential that individuals engage in self-evaluation and exploit their potential.
Self-reliance in thought and action results in revolutions in religion, education or even in the politics. This view is very real. When people decide to exploit what is in them as opposed to merely operating as per the norms, they come up with innovations that change the world. It is evident that many of the inventions ever made in the world were made by one person or just a few and not the society at large. It is thus clear that trusting self and exploiting what one have would result in a better world as opposed to merely conforming to society.
Emerson has presented a critical point in the article. It is evident that people often tend to ignore themselves and prioritise others. Equally, they tend to ignore what they know and often refer to other peoples view. All this indicates mistrust with self. The excessive reliance on property rather than one’s capabilities is also a form of a doubt with self. One can lose property and family members. In spite of this, they have to continue with their lives. It is thus true that relying on self-supersedes relying on society and property. In spite of these great views, it is evident that human beings are social beings. They can learn from each other and better others.
Callaghan, Paul. Cultural challenges to faith: A reflection on the dynamics of Modernity. Church, communication and culture, 2.1(2017): 25.40
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 1803-1882. Self-Reliance. White Plains, N.Y.: Peter Pauper Press, 1967. Print, 1-23