Self-Reliance is a must read classic for every business owner, entrepreneur and corporate executive. Written by American philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, it contains the most thorough statement of one of Emerson’s recurrent themes, the need for each individual to avoid conformity and false consistency, and follow his or her own instincts and ideas.
It is the source of one of Emerson’s most famous quotations: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.Self-Reliance was first published in his 1841 collection, Essays: First Series. “Self-Reliance” is one of Emerson’s most famous essays. Emerson wrote on “individualism, personal responsibility, and nonconformity.
“Self-Reliance” is Emerson’s compilation of many years’ works and the archetype for his transcendental philosophies. Emerson presupposes that the mind is initially subject to an unhappy conformism. Throughout the essay he gives a defense for his famous catch-phrase “Trust thyself”. This argument follows three major points: the self-contained genius, the disapproval of the world, and the value of self-worth.
In the first section, Emerson argues that inside of each person is genius. He writes: “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, that is genius.” The remainder of this section is spent exploring this concept. He says that only a man who is self-reliant will be successful and any outside influences would take away from personal satisfaction. Emerson claims that examples of people who trusted themselves above all else include Moses, Plato, and John Milton. He then goes on to highlight the value of individual expression. Emerson writes that a man should follow what he thinks in order to discover his own path in life. When a person follows another person’s path instead of his own, he feels dispirited and small. An example that he states is a person hears some idea they had thought in their mind said by another person.
Emerson says that a man cannot bluntly obey society if he wants to follow his own expression. “No government or church can explain a man’s heart to him, and so each individual must resist institutional authority.” Emerson continues by decrying the effects that society has upon the individual. He says that when people are influenced by society, they will compromise their values in order to retain a foolish character to the world. He states: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…with consistency a great soul simply has nothing to do.” When a man adheres blindly to thoughts or opinions he has vocalized in the past, purely for the sake of seeming true to his principles, Emerson argues that he violates his nature. A man should not worry that he will be misunderstood or thought less of because his opinions changed. He writes, “To be great is to be misunderstood.” A man must be willing, every day, to open his consciousness to his intuition, whether or not what it tells him is in conflict with his past conclusions. He also states how a man should still follow his own path even if other people feel offended by this idea. He writes, “My life is for itself”, “and not for a spectacle” emphasizing the idea of not following what other people think, adding to the idea that this compromises their individual values. Emerson wrote that if a person were self-reliant, he would have “consistent access to survival.” He mentions how family, work, and society can hinder the ability for a man to thrive. He says that they can only stimulate his own thinking, not teach him anything.
The essay then discusses of the value of self-worth. Emerson says one should not overly admire a great person from the past. Emerson states that “man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say ‘I think,’ ‘I am,’ but quotes some saint or sage.” He states that historically great men are not any more important than the present men, but they serve as examples of how to trust oneself. Individuals should speak their ideas instead of quoting the words of historical people because it will not help one understand his own inspiration.
Emerson describes a self-reliant man as someone who is not afraid to speak his mind and truth to anyone, resilient, optimistic, quick-thinking, and changes himself when he is inspired by himself. A self-reliant man does not like to travel. Emerson thinks that all truths could be found where a person was and he did not have to travel to gain anything. He continues to say, “I cannot sell my liberty and my power to save their sensibility.”
Emerson concludes by saying that as society gains, it also loses simultaneously. He writes “Society is a wave”, “The waves move onward, but the water of which it is composed does not.” He explains how in order to be happy and peaceful, one should not care about the consumerism but should focus on his own situation. He ends with “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.
Throughout this essay, Emerson argues against conformity with the world. He argues how people should not conform to what other people in society think, but instead should transform society with his thoughts. He gives an archetype for his own transcendental beliefs, but also argues for his slogan “trust thyself”. To follow Emerson’s self-reliant credo fully, one must learn to hear and obey what is true within one’s heart, and both think and act independent of popular opinion and social pressure, in order to bring satisfaction to one’s self.
- 52 pages: Including – Summary, Complete Essay, and top 19 Books Quotes
- Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (September 7, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 151722795X
- ISBN-13: 978-1517227951
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4.5 ounces