On “Self-Reliance”

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s work elucidated:

            Mankind has the intrinsic freedom to act as we please regardless of the structures set forth by the society to limit and define his motives and drives of his actions and thoughts. Therefore, man has the audacity of making definitive actions in accordance to his inclinations and needs, not to mention his wont for inner needs for outcomes that arise from self-reliance. As explained by Ralph Waldo Emerson, a man only limits himself through possessing different perspectives that are inculcated in him by the immediate society. This goes a long way in helping shape the kind of character and role that he eventually acquires in the society. Therefore, every man has access to his own thought and that is what ultimately determines the progress of his own soul and contribution to the existing society or community (Emerson 7). This paper provides an analysis of the role that self-reliance plays in our lives and the role that culture plays in influencing an individual’s self-reliance and its application to his life and day to day experiences.

The biggest challenge is that most individuals don’t have belief in their own thoughts. It is due to lack of enlightened confidence that many fail to have enough trust in their own thoughts (Miranda 99). It is true that our own primordial thoughts possess latent ideas that can cause transformation in large scale on matters that desperately need to be innovated. For example, the ideas of Galileo Galilei were initially disparaged as mere superstition but later accepted as the new paradigm change in astronomy (Galilei and Maurice 67). It is because men like Jesus, Moses and so on were courageous enough to speak their minds that they have become renowned in the modern contemporary societies. According to Emerson, most ideas perish with people because many have fear to express their novelty which would otherwise have a life-changing effect on the lives of many who are stuck in “methods” that don’t work anymore (Emerson 8). Hence, the most important aspect of individuals who make the most regarded contributions to the society is that they are “fearless of the disparate perceptions of the judgments from people who have little confidence or a degree of association with those ideas and paradigm shifts” (O’meara 29).

It is true what they say: that “envy is ignorance”. The reason for this is because every man is subject to equal potential for achievement and accomplishment in whatever he sets his eyes upon. Many people fail in life for the simple reason that they are all struggling to be copy-cats of other individuals. It is because men like Moses, Pythagoras, and Jesus were courageous enough to express their original ideas and conceptions that they have been labeled as heroes (Haber 66). Moreover, these individuals were outstanding in terms of character during their respective existences. Emerson argues that these great men had acquired philosophical perfection due to their arduous and persistent commitment to pure knowledge and wisdom. On the other hand, the ordinary man does not bother to gather further [transcendental] knowledge beyond the superficial theories that he is taught in the ordinary learning systems. In his criticism of the peculiarity of contentment of the average man, he says, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall” (Emerson 5).

The most outstanding thought from the works of Emerson is that all men are subject to transcendent destiny. Transcendence means that there is more beyond what our physical eyes perceives of the material world. The vision of men is limited by what society and culture inculcates in him. It is unfortunate that most men do not outgrow these limitations that are embedded in their psyche for the reason that it takes much wit to be able to think outside the box called society. The reason that transcendental insight evades out thinking is because such crucial concepts are rarely put into perspective in the day to day life of a majority of people within the community. Therefore, it is because individuals lack self-trust that they continue to wallow in oblivion. For a man to be able to free himself from this darkness, he needs to exercise his thinking beyond the ordinary efforts of the lowest man, intellectually and philosophically. Emerson succinctly explains these ideas and goes ahead to provide relevant examples that illustrate that mankind is only limited by his own mind, and not by external factors such as culture and other external influences. It is true what Socrates said in his deathbed: that we should be light unto ourselves (Adluri 415).

As a young boy, a man develops various biases that he uses in evaluating different phenomena in life. Unfortunately, for many, this implicitly inculcated bias continues to have a considerable impact in their adult lives. For a man to free himself from these chains, he needs to whole heartedly put the doctrine of self-reliance into action. Many philosophers and prominent thinkers have touched on this essence in their discourse. For example, Jesus taught that man needs to develop to a certain level of self-reliance in his life in order to live an enlightened and happy life (Jefferson 55). Emerson, just like Pythagoras, insisted that man has the keys to his own happiness (O’meara 150). Therefore every man needs to have self-knowledge that guides him in everything he does, including his secret relationship with God. Yet even though God does not manifest himself in our individual lives in physical or directly cognizable form, the higher consciousness is always present in our lives and experiences. According to O’meara (1990), it is by concentrating our hidden faculties that we can get to realize and optimize this aspect about our lives.

In conclusion, it is due to false and want for men to act virtuously that they are unable to make lasting and objective actions. Men usually act in accordance to mannerisms that conform to the dominant society and methods and perceptions. It is only by trusting out novelty and intuition and transcendental knowledge about things and circumstances that we can get to make the optimal contributions to the community. This was the path followed by men who are to-day held in high regard like Jesus, Moses, Pythagoras. In fact these men didn’t have an easy time inasmuch as the contemporary world holds their knowledge and perspectives in high regard. In his turn, Pythagoras or Jesus or Moses escaped   It is of utmost importance that we do not repress our most potent, creative, and rebellious ideas since they might be the solutions to some of the most pressing human needs in the future civilizations. Self-reliance is the most important factor in an individual’s life, and in making contributions that will impact the future generations in ways that will remain memorable to many.

Works Cited

Adluri, Vishwa. “Initiation into the Mysteries: The experience of the irrational in                                    Plato.” Mouseion: Journal of the Classical Association of Canada 6.3 (2006):                             407-423.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Self-Reliance.” Blackboard, uploaded by Nicholas R. Marino, 29                 Jan 2018, blackboard.bmcc.edu/.

Galilei, Galileo, and Maurice A. Finocchiaro. The Essential Galileo. Hackett Publishing,                       2008.

Haber, Francis C. “The age of the world, Moses to Darwin.” (1959).

Jefferson, Thomas. The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Beacon                     Press, 1904.

Miranda, Jose P. Marx and the Bible: A Critique of the Philosophy of Oppression. Wipf and             Stock Publishers, 2004.

O’meara, Dominic J. Pythagoras revived: mathematics and philosophy in late antiquity.                        Oxford University Press on Demand, 1990.


Note: Legend has it that Jesus, eventually, was helped by a certain tradesman man and escaped to Kashmir where there allegedly exists historical proof for his burial tomb to date.

4 thoughts on “On “Self-Reliance”

  1. A desire to obediently conform to a way of life considered “acceptable” to the majority has suppressed the wild beast of creativity. This injures us greatly. Obedience taints truth and negates freedom.

    We in the United States are paying a severe price for this fearful behavior by being subjected to the deep embarrassment of a hatefully ignorant and racist, sexual predator becoming our president. i don’t know if we will ever be able to wash away the shame of such an obscene show of ignorance and complacency.

    Liked by 2 people

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