Emerson "self-reliance"


The quote that most provoked thought and emotion from within



me comes from the essay "Self-Reliance" by Ralph Waldo Emerson. "To

be great is to be misunderstood" was used by Emerson to explain the

lagging growth of the conception of ideas and thoughts of his



generation. Original and novel ideas were scorned by conservatives



who believed the best method for learning was by repetition and



memorization of proven classics written by previous generations.



The continuing timelessness of his quote is still in effect today



as the scientific community has evolved to accept unaccustomed



theories, yet encounters difficulty when relating to the public new

and extreme ideas that rebut the system.



In history, the results of individualism has been spread world

wide. Important leaders, thinkers, and philosophers with radical



ideas in virgin areas of research were making significant finds



rapidly. Yet progress was slowed by short-sighted men who failed to

see greatness.



Aberham Lincoln was a revolutionary in his time with his views

on slavery and forgiveness of the South. Yet his death was the



result of one man's refusal to accept what was once a proud and



rich land reduced to tatters- left to ruin because of her failure



to accept civil reform.



Herman Melville's work in Moby Dick was considered a classic,



yet Melville died a figure with lost prestige, poor and unaccepted.

When he was laid to rest in 1891, he was remembered only as the



author of entertaining novels of the South Seas. It was not until



1920s when his place in America's foremost writers was assured. His

works are now great masterpieces of emotion that were misunderstood

while he was still alive.



Another important example is democracy. In medieval times,



monarchies and kingdoms ruled the land. Today, the monarch is



merely a figurehead behind the power of democracy. At the birth of



the democratic rise of the United States of America, the colonists



were thought of as upstart fools- dreamers believing the



impossible. English royalists were aghast at the indignation of the

colonies to separate from England and form their own country. In



present day, the United States is the sole world power, a great



country born out of dreams.



"Self-Reliance" expressed the need for creative thinking.



Society during Emerson's era resisted reform and scorned the



reformer. Emerson saw individualism in direct conflict with



society. "The effect of society," he thought," was not to



strengthen the individual, but to breed conformity and fear."



Although he often criticized society, he stressed more importantly

the openness of the individual through the soul. The quote " To be



great is to be misunderstood" reflected upon the lack of acceptance

of new thought and theory during his time.