Emerson and Individualism

In his essay “Self Reliance,” Ralph Waldo Emerson revealed his opinions on the importance of individualism as it pertains to the happiness of oneself, as well as the importance of upholding an individualistic identity in society. Emerson encourages his readers to live their lives with courage, bravery, and inconsistency,  while paying no attention to antagonists who try to influence their actions and decisions based off of societal constraints. Emerson believes that individual choices and actions all benefit society in a greater way than conformed choices and actions.

One of my favorite quotes by Emerson states,“It is 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.” Emerson uses his essay as a platform to encourage individualistic choices, desires, and endeavors among each person, regardless of the influence others try to hold over them. Emerson believes that conforming to opinions upheld by people and society as a whole, is easier than standing alone or resisting societal constraints.

Overall, I agree with Emerson’s stance on individualism in society. If no one challenged the ideas and actions of others, society and the lives of individuals would lack diversity and excitement. Today, it is easy to make decisions based off of the approval of peers, family, and even strangers with whom we may have little to no interaction with at all. It’s very easy for someone to go against their internal will and live their life in a way they are not 100% satisfied because they believe conformity will result in instant approval from others. There will always be people who claim they know what’s best for our well-being and try to convince us to abide by their beliefs and rules. Emerson ultimately believes that greatness can be determined by one’s ability to remain individualistic in a crowd of conformists because it can be seen as very challenging.

Emerson’s quote, for me, is very applicable to my everyday life. Specifically at this point in time, it is very important for myself to remain confident in my own ideas and decisions regardless of what I am being told by people around me. Choosing my own path education wise, considering possible careers that interest only me, and pursuing what makes me happy outside of work and school are a few factors that contribute to my individualism. It could be very easy for me to base my daily decisions or future plans off of what will please my family or impress my friends, but I am determined to put my interests and goals first. Being an individual in a group that only continues to conform may be challenging at times, but crucial when it comes to maintaining your individualistic self and all of the things that make someone unique. emerson

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4 Responses to Emerson and Individualism

  1. giamarucci says:

    Well captured thoughts, schesser2. My favorite key point of this blog was “Emerson encourages his readers to live their lives with courage, bravery, and inconsistency, while paying no attention to antagonists who try to influence their actions and decisions based off of societal constraints.” Emerson has personally been a favorite read of mine so far. Identifying the antagonists in one’s life is crucial to carrying on our own individual tasks, and weeding out who will not support you in your decisions. One of my favorite ideas from Self Reliance was the vision of the ship moving zig zag across the sea. A bystander on the ocean’s shore would be baffled by what the ship was doing. Why are they changing their course so much? Having no idea what was actually happening on the boat, and how the captain may be navigating rough waters. Good for you choosing your own path in life! Continue to live individually and following no societal constraints, just unapologetically being you.

  2. kassandracarol says:

    I would agree that Emerson accurately depicts the importance of individualism. His words are now even more important because our ability to connect to so many people at ease. From Emerson’s individualism you can also assume that an American can pursue their happiness and the “American Dream” through being who they are. Conformity is something that society has been actively challenging. We can see this through the gender equality movement. Gender is something that cannot be conformed to and defined and we see people not conforming and being their best self. This is just one example of individuals not being defined by the majority.

  3. moarmouat says:

    I really enjoyed this post! I am at a point in my life where everyone thinks they know what is best for me and think that I am being stubborn for not listening to them. I think we should all live to the beat of our own drums, as cliche as that is! Your own happiness and your own self interest should always be put before others. It is you own life to live.
    I liked your claim about the world lacking diversity and excitement if no one challenged other people’s ideas. I absolutely agree with this. Different is fun and mysterious; I couldn’t imagine a world without differing opinions. It is also really cool to learn about different ways of thinking and life styles. It makes you understand them and respect them more as an individual.

  4. Laura Woodland says:

    Your post reminded me of something.

    In high school, I had an obsession with Pinterest. I would pin DIY projects I knew I would never complete, recipes that looked good but I would probably never make, and most importantly, inspirational quotes (if you’re not familiar, these are mostly images of beautiful scenery with motivational quotes in fancy typography superimposed.) I had hundreds of pins of images telling me, in a various clever sayings, to be my own person.

    “Sometimes the people around you won’t understand your jorney — yes, they spelled journey wrong — they don’t need to, it’s not for them.”

    “It is as easy for the strong man to be strong, as it is for the weak to be weak.”

    “You are enough.”

    “You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.”

    “Some days you have to create your own sunshine.”

    Don’t judge me. 17-year-old me was going through her first high school breakup and found validation in Pinterest. Oh. And one of those quotes was from Emerson’s “Self-Reliance.” Can you tell which one? (Hint: it’s the second one.)

    It’s funny to me though, these quotes I found to be so encouraging on Pinterest have the same message as Emerson, hundreds of years later. We are the makers of our own happiness. Us. No one else. Although, I don’t believe that Emerson would misspell words or propose creating sunshine, his message of individualism is used as motivation today. We do not owe anyone anything, and no one owes anything to us. We, as we are, are enough.

    My question though is, why do I feel like I’m not? I never fully bought into Emerson’s idea of not-conforming, but instead being your true self. Like you say, it’s often very difficult to be the one unique, strong person in the crowd of conformity. We always feel so much pressure to be like those around us. Why is that? And why should we fight it?

    I can think of so many times when I have conformed (example: I am wearing Birkenstocks and drinking water from a Hydro Flask right now – two very trendy things on the ASU campus). The fact is, there are just so many other people in the world. They are bound to have good ideas as well. Why should I always strive to use my own? Birkenstocks are comfortable. I don’t see anything wrong with relying on other people as long as I’m not dependent upon them.

    Emerson, I get what you are saying, but I don’t think that your strict individualism is what we should strive for anymore. 17-year-old heartbroken Laura needed to understand what I know now. Pinterest couldn’t teach me this lesson: we don’t need to strive to be an individual, we already are one. Let us be us.

    Emerson, Ralph Waldo, and Stanley Appelbaum. Self-Reliance and Other Essays. New York: Dover Publications, 1993. Print.

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