Self-reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is a powerful essay to remind ourselves of our potential. You may read the the essay itself for free here. The one I read was a version of the essay published by Seth Godin’s Domino Project. It includes self-reflection by leading luminaries but I don’t they are needed to understand the true value of this essay.

Rating 8/10. Finished 2011-05-29

Notes & Clippings

Virtues are, in popular estimate, rather the exception than the rule. There is the man and hi svirtues. Men do what is called a good action, as some piece of courage or charity, much as they would pay a fine in apiation of daily non-appearance on parade. Their works are done as an apology or extenuation of their living in the world, as invalids and the insane pay a high board. Their virtue are pencances. I do not wish to expiate, but to live. My life is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be a of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, than it should be glittering and unsteady. I wish it to be sounds and sweet and not to be need diet and bleeding. I ask primary evidence that you are a man, and refuse this appeal from the man to his actions. I know that for myself it makes no difference whether I do or forbear those actions which are reckoned excellent. I cannot consent to pay for a privilege where I have intrinsic right. Few and mean as my gifts may be, I actually am, and do not need for my own assurance or the assurance of my fellows any secondary testimony.

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meannes. It i the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

….

I hope in these days we have heard the last of conformity and consistency. Let the words be gazetted and ridiculous henceforward. Instead of the gong for dinner, let us hear a whistle from the Spartan fife. Let us never bow and apologize more. A great man is coming to eat at my house. I do not wish to please him; I wish that he should wish to please me. I will stand here for humanity, and though I would make it kind, I would make it true. Let us affront and reprimand the smooth mediocrity and squalid contentment of the times, and hurl in the face of custom, and trade, and office, the fact which is the upshot of all history, that there is a great responsible Thinker and Actor working wherever a man works; that a true man belongs to no other time or place, but is the centre of things. Where he is, there is nature. He measures you, and all men, and all events. Ordinarily, every body in society reminds us of somewhat else, or of some other person. Character, reality, reminds you of nothing else; it takes place of the whole creation. The man must be so much, that he must make all circumstances indifferent. Every true man is a cause, a country, and an age; requires infinite spaces and numbers and time fully to accomplish his design; —and posterity seem to follow his steps as a train of clients.

Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing. Act singly, and what you have already done singly will justify you now. Greatness appeals to the future. If I can be firm enough to-day to do right, and scorn eyes, I must have done so much right before as to defend me now. Be it how it will, do right now. Always scorn appearances, and you always may. The force of character is cumulative. All the foregone days of virtue work their health into this.

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 is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose. These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.

….

I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy.

What you love to think about, dream about, speak about, learn about and create about is your genius. Don’t water down your natural style or contort yourself into some idealized version of who you think you should be. The impulses that come from deep within are your guide track to greatness. We want you as is. – Marie Forleo

….

And truly it demands something godlike in him who has cast off the common motives of humanity, and has ventured to trust himself for a taskmaster. High be his heart, faithful his will, clear his sight, that may in good earnest be doctrine, society, law, to himself, that a simple purpose may be to him as strong as iron necessity is to others.

….

Insist on yourself; never imitate.

It’s a waster of time to imitate, to do something other people can do as good or better than you. I make the media that I want to consume. I started boing boing as a print zine because it was the kind of zine I wanted to read. Boing Boing was the blog I always wanted. MAKE was the do-it-yourself magazine I wanted to subscribe to. It’s fine to be inspired by others, but if you imitate others, you will never find out who you are. – Mark Frauenfelder.

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