Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of the most prominent essays in American history. Emerson has influenced and inspired many individuals through his notable points such as that one should not toss aside our instincts but rather others judgment in order to live properly. In Emerson’s essay Self Reliance he expresses that individuals need to focus on themselves, listen to their own voice, and follow their own path rather than others in order to achieve one’s fullest potential.
In a society where change is always advocated and others’ opinions are always voiced, one needs to take some time to step back and reflect on who they are and what they care about. Emerson expresses in his Self Reliance essay that 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. Emerson here is telling us to live after our opinion rather than others’ opinions. We need to accept ourselves; otherwise, we will get changed by what society wants us to be and not be our true selves. Unfortunately, there is this negative stigma on being alone because of many factors like social media. There is this need to always inform others on what is going on with one’s life, and if one does not then there is this sense of feeling like they are missing out on something, feeling left out, or the thought that others are going to think of them negatively, however, that is not what is important for oneself. Emerson states in his essay What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think (Emerson). Taking some time to be alone and consider what needs to be accomplished for oneself, through focusing and figuring out what one can potentially be, ultimately overrides what others think.
Anyone can listen to others’ opinions but that will not do any good for one’s self. Emerson voices in his essay that Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles (Emerson). Emerson is conveying that one will not be happy doing something against one’s morals, strongly expressing to individuals to take after their own inner voices as opposed to letting themselves to be pressured and influenced by others. Jack Turner, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at University of Washington, argues, that if everyone followed [Emerson], we would be a society of disconnected and narcissistic individuals (Emerson, Slavery, and Citizenship) , however, this is not true due to the fact that being self-reliant and being self-centered are two different things. Self-reliance according to Merriam Webster is not needing help or support from other people while being self-centered is caring only about yourself; being self-absorbed. Being self-reliant means one depends on just themselves rather than others because they know they can accomplish the task. It is a great quality to have because it shows one can take care of oneself which will help many in the future, while being self-centered is being able to only think about oneself and does not really care about others. However, this does not mean that an individual cannot help others. James H. Read, a Professor of Political Science with the College of Saint Benedict conveys Self-reliant individuals recognize the call of justice, and the obligation to fulfill duties toward others, but do so in a new and unprecedented way: not after the customs of others, but as their own inward perception of truth prescribes (The Limits of Self-Reliance) stating that a self-reliant individual will do their responsibilities but in a way that has not been done before and feels right. By doing so does not make one selfish, as declining society’s view because it does not sit well with what one believes in shows individuality rather than conforming.
Emerson’s whole objective through his Self Reliance essay was to point out that one should find their personal identity. He states in his essay Your conformity explains nothing. Act singly, and what you have already done singly will justify you now (Emerson). It is simple to do what society wants one to do, but what society wants one to do does not make who one is. Jack Turner states in an article Complicity, finally, is often a form of conformity: we fail to question prevailing political, social, and economic arrangements because we fear social ostracism ( Self-Reliance and Complicity). To be a true individual to oneself, one should not accept societies definition of what wrong and right is but rather find out what wrong and right means to oneself. Accepting societies rules because of fear of being treated differently and exclusion just makes more followers of society, essentially, leading to no individuality due to everyone having the same mindset. To achieve personal growth one has to chose to ignore all the doubt from not only others opinions but also from oneself and follow what one believes and feels right.
In conclusion, it is easy to be caught up in others’ opinions and then suddenly feel like one needs to change themselves because their differences do not match up with other individuals. Learning to be different and independent is just the first step to being who one truly is and to grow up successfully. Many individuals fail to realize that just because one is different from others does not mean that individual needs to change nor does that make them selfish for not wanting to do so.