Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” is a highly debatable piece. His ideas are often looked at insensible because much of his audience cannot fathom a life of complete self-reliance. His essay brings up many excellent points that people do not care to consider in society today. He states why people should be more self-reliant, what’s generally stopping them, and how to overcome these barriers. Although it’s easy to disagree with some of what Emerson has to say, most of his ideas are very intelligent and should be considered.
Society has a way of corrupting its members and pulling them away from self-reliance. Emerson says that society has gotten to a point where people do not even remember how to rely on themselves. People live through the world around them because they are taught to conform to the names and the customs society practices. It is a “conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members” because it takes away the individuality of its members to create a world of people who think the same and act the same.
People need to practice aversion and escape the conformity that society strives on. Of course, it is very had for people to get themselves out of this phase of conformity, but as Emerson says, “whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.” For years only great men have been able to break away from society’s grasp to form their own ideas and live their own lives. These few examples are the ones people need to follow (149).
Much of the reason people conform to society is that they do not know themselves enough to listen to what’s in their own heads. People need to learn how to trust themselves. They need to accept the place, events, and virtues that are naturally found for them. The only thing worth trusting in a person’s life is found in the heart. The voices in a persons heart are “the voices heard in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as” people return to society. People should not be cautious about listening and learning what they were meant to hear and learn. They should let themselves be led into a life of self-reliance (153). A lot of people do not practice self-reliance out of fear or something new. Emerson says that “the other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word.” This is not something that should deter people from self-reliance. They should be brave going into the world, doing what feels right and not worrying about the disappointment in another person’s eyes. It is only detrimental to constantly carry around memories. Emerson is not saying to forget everything about the past, but instead to use it wisely. Consult the past for judgement as a new day begins, and use it as guidance towards new experiences. One who is wise uses more then a memory to continue with life. A memory can be used to broaden horizons, to teach a person more about themselves, and to lead them into another great part of the world. Therefore, a memory should not be an intimidation keeping one from a life of self-reliance (153).
The ideal way to practice self-reliance is to be self-reliant while still living in society. Emerson tends to lead his reader to think the only way to capture this goal is to desert society and start over alone. A life of solitude is not necessary to accomplish self-reliance, and it is obviously not an appealing option. If a person finds the strength to break away from society’s hold without actually leaving, this person can make the most of itself and what its life can be. People have to be strong, listen closely to themselves, and not give up when society starts to drown out what is important. Self-reliance should be the ultimate goal in ones life, but unfortunately, it is a goal that is rarely set. The way Emerson talks about self-reliance leads his readers away from the idea. It is actually an important part of a person’s life that is not even considered. It is not necessary to break away from society and become a hermit to achieve this, but is necessary if one wants to live their life to the fullest. Self-reliance is one of the most important things a person can have in them and the idea of it should be looked at and practiced much more often.
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