insist on yourself never imitate essay

Ralph Waldo Emerson on Self-Reliance and Nonconformity

Share this:.

  • Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
  • Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)
  • Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)
  • Click to share on Tumblr (Opens in new window)
  • Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)
  • Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)
“Insist on yourself; never imitate.” ( Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson )

Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson is a classic essay on the importance of nonconformity, individuality, and self-reliance.

The ideas contained in the essay provide a much needed antidote against the conforming pressures of our age, as Emerson was a strong believer in the importance of not identifying with the “crowd”, and instead staying true to one’s own path and inner law.

Society Against the Individual

“For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure.” ( Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson )

Nonconformists are viewed by the majority as a threat, as individuals who need to be educated in the “ways of the world” – domesticated to the socially accepted worldview and values.

This fear of nonconformists stems from the fact that nonconformists are by their very nature creators – individuals who carve out their own view of reality, and arrive at their own idea of what it means to be a human; of what is good, beautiful, and true.

The masses despise such people for in the words of Emerson, they love “not realities and creators, but names and customs”. Names, customs, and institutions give the conformist a sense of stability and security: they are signposts and anchors they grasp onto to gain some semblance of orientation in the midst of the ambiguity and uncertainty of reality.

As a creator, the nonconformist embraces the ambiguity of reality, and carves out a life based on their uniqueness. For such an individual one’s inner law is higher than the collective laws, and the sacred within more important than the social idols worshipped by others.

“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 he 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!” ( Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson )

To Be Great is to Be Misunderstood

self-reliance

Every individual is a dynamic entity. Within each of us is a network of drives, beliefs, attitudes and desires, that are forever changing and developing. To stay true to our inner law requires we remain faithful to this metamorphic character of ours; and therefore, from time to time, to contradict ourselves.

Walt Whitman expressed this idea writing :

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Or as Emerson puts it , “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”:

“Speak what you think now in hard words and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.—’Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’—Is it so bad then to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.” ( Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson )

The Genius Within and the Fallacy of Insignificance

“Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say ‘I think,’ ‘I am,’ but quotes some saint or sage.” ( Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson )

The 20th century author Colin Wilson asserted that the psychology of the modern individual is afflicted by a “fallacy of insignificance”. The modern individual,  he wrote:  “has been conditioned by society to lack self-confidence in their ability to achieve anything of real worth, and thus they conform to society to escape their feelings of unimportance and uselessness.”

Emerson too observed a fallacy of insignificance afflicting his contemporaries. He proposed that the individual could overcome this fallacy through the recognition that

“the power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.” ( Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson )

Such a recognition provides one with a stubborn, but healthy, insistence upon remaining true to oneself. Too many today, afflicted with a fallacy of insignificance, look outward in search of meaning and guidance to live by. They attempt to embed themselves into a social structure, in the belief that alone and without support, they are unworthy and their lives meaningless.

In Self-Reliance Emerson explains the flaws in this attitude and thus provides a remedy for the fallacy of insignificance which afflicts so many people today:

“I remember an answer which when quite young I was prompted to make to a valued adviser who was wont to importune me with the dear old doctrines of the church. On my saying, “What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within?” my friend suggested,—”But these impulses may be from below, not from above.” I replied, “They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil’s child, I will live then from the Devil.” No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature.” ( Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson )

Bitcoin address. Click to copy.

Bitcoin

Monero address. Click to copy.

  • Skip to main content
  • Keyboard shortcuts for audio player

13.7 Cosmos & Culture

Emersonian perfectionism: a passage from 'self-reliance'.

Stuart Kauffman

In a past post, " Living The Well Discovered Life ," I sought to go beyond Emerson, from living the well considered life, where Emerson urges us to cleave to our virtues and grow them, to a wider life where we discover our virtues in a world whose enabling opportunities we cannot prestate but that we co-create, where we often cannot know what can happen, yet must live our lives forward, as Kierkegaard said, and discover our virtues that will flower in the possibilities that become.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said it first :

"Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. No man yet knows what it or can till that person has exhibited it. Where is the master who could have taught Shakspeare? Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton? Every great man is a unique. The Scipionism of Scipio is precisely that part he could not borrow. Shakspeare will never be made by the study of Shakspeare. Do that which is assigned you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much. There is at this moment for you an utterance brave and grand as that of the colossal chisel of Phidias, or trowel of the Egyptians, or the pen of Moses, or Dante, but different from all of these. Not possibly will the soul all rich, all eloquent, with thousand-cloven tongue, deign to repeat itself; but if you can hear what these patriarchs say, surely you can reply to them in the same pitch of voice; for the ear and the tongue are two organs of one nature. Abide in the simple and noble regions of thy life, obey thy heart, and thou shalt reproduce the Foreworld again."

Not yet lost in modernity, Emerson saw. Yet the living world is more, beyond entailing law, a constant, creative unfolding. We partake and make this unfolding, we together. Then with and beyond Emerson, abide in the simple and noble regions of thy life, obey thy heart and thou shalt produce the New World.

  • Soren Kierkegaard
  • Self-Reliance
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

Philosophy Break Your home for learning about philosophy

Introductory philosophy courses distilling the subject's greatest wisdom.

Reading Lists

Curated reading lists on philosophy's best and most important works.

Latest Breaks

Bite-size philosophy articles designed to stimulate your brain.

Self Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance Summary (and PDF): Become Your Own Person

In his famous 1841 essay Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson argues that society is in conspiracy against our individuality. To really live good lives, we must have the courage to resist conformity and trust the ‘immense intelligence’ of our own intuition and gut instinct.

Jack Maden

10 -MIN BREAK  

H ow can we best navigate existence? Should we go along with the conventions of society? Should we respect the prevailing traditions and opinions of the day? Or should we relentlessly carve our own paths through life?

Throughout his work, the philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 - 1882) made his answers to such questions clear, spearheading the Transcendentalist movement of mid-19th century America.

One of the key hallmarks of the Transcendentalist movement, which notably included Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and Henry David Thoreau (see our reading list of Thoreau’s best books here ), is its celebration of the supremacy — even divinity — of nature.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 - 1882)

Divinity is not locked in a distant heaven, say transcendentalists; it is accessible right here in the company of the natural world.

We are thus at our best not when we conform to voices outside ourselves, but when we follow the voice within — the glimmering insight, the “immense intelligence” of our natural intuition and instincts.

Society on this view is seen as a corrupting force — it takes us away from our natural wisdom.

Emerson offers the beginnings of a path for how we might resist the pressures of society in his famous 1841 essay, Self-Reliance (access the full text of Self-Reliance as a free PDF here ), which features in my reading list of Emerson’s best books , and is a crucial contribution to Transcendentalist thought.

With eloquent, persuasive prose, Emerson fiercely defends the idea that the good life involves defying conformity, taking charge of our own existences, and living in accordance with the wisdom of the natural world.

Let’s take a look at Emerson’s essay in more detail, and see why his critique of conformity and celebration of individuality remains so acclaimed to this day.

Emerson: in works of genius, we find our own buried thoughts

E merson begins Self-Reliance by discussing a funny thing he’s observed about great works of art. Namely: that they often reflect our own buried thoughts and feelings back to us. He writes:

In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.

Emerson reflects,

Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility [even] when the whole cry of voices is on the other side.

In other words, if we identify our own buried thoughts and concerns in works of genius — works we celebrate and implore others to read, watch, or listen to — then why, Emerson questions, do we often lack the conviction to express or act on such thoughts ourselves?

Perhaps, Emerson laments, we push down such thoughts because they go against convention in some way, or because we feel they might embarrass or expose us if spoken aloud.

In short: because we’re worried by the judgment of others…

Thus Emerson sets up his attack on convention and conformity, within which he thinks we all hide ourselves for fear of exposing our true natures.

weekly emails from Philosophy Break

From the Buddha to Nietzsche: join 11,000+ subscribers enjoying my free Sunday Breakdown

In one concise email each Sunday, I break down a famous idea from philosophy. You get the distillation straight to your inbox.

💭 One short philosophical email each Sunday. Unsubscribe any time.

Society is in conspiracy against our individuality

W ith its silly status games and hierarchies, society saps our confidence and self-reliance, Emerson thinks: “It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.”

As we move through life, we must navigate pre-existing power structures and conventions, and stagger through storms of opinion on what we think, say, and do.

Confident, persuasive voices will try to convince us that this is the way; while others will shame us for daring to act differently.

But against this noise we must try to preserve our individuality, Emerson implores:

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.

While outsourcing our opinions to the crowd may be tempting, and might feel like the safer option, in doing so we only falsify ourselves, Emerson warns:

Most men have bound their eyes with one or another handkerchief, and attached themselves to some one of these communities of opinion. This conformity makes them not false in a few particulars, authors of a few lies, but false in all particulars. Their every truth is not quite true.

Of course, society will punish us for trying to steer our own course. “For nonconformity”, Emerson observes, “the world whips you with its displeasure.”

We feel pressure to act according to the expectations of others, because “the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them.”

But exchanging our true selves for the comfort of the crowd is a cost we should not be willing to bear, Emerson thinks:

Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing.

After all, what but mediocrity awaits us in convention and consistency?

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.

Really living means growing and adapting, Emerson says — even if by growing and adapting we contradict our former selves, or people’s expectations of us:

Suppose you should contradict yourself; what then? …Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said today.

“What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think,” Emerson declares: “No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature.”

Being self-reliant: the ineffable intelligence of our inner nature

W e might wonder why Emerson places so much stock on our ‘inner natures’ — what does he really mean by maintaining our individuality? How might we do so?

Well, Emerson thinks we are endowed with intuition from nature, an immense ‘gut’ intelligence that trumps the fleeting fashions of opinion in society.

“We lie in the lap of immense intelligence,” he writes,

which makes us receivers of its truth and organs of its activity. When we discern justice, when we discern truth, we do nothing of ourselves, but allow a passage to its beams. If we ask whence this comes, if we seek to pry into the soul that causes, all philosophy is at fault. Its presence or its absence is all we can affirm.

We cannot necessarily articulate it, but most of us will be familiar with having a ‘feeling in our gut’ or ‘call of conscience’. It is this kind of intuition that Emerson thinks we should trust much more than public opinion.

We are part of nature, yet the opinions of society corrupt us away from nature:

Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say ‘I think,’ ‘I am,’ but quotes some saint or sage… These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are… [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…

We will not be happy or strong until, like the examples in nature all around us, we live in the present without second-guessing ourselves, “above time”, self-reliant .

Do not imitate: entrust yourself to be your own person

E merson argues our best acts will never come through imitation, for we will never surpass those on whom we model ourselves.

It is only through really, truly, authentically being ourselves that we can live lives of which we can be proud — lives that take us beyond dreary mediocrity. Emerson writes:

Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession.

For, indeed, he questions, “where is the master who could have taught Shakspeare?”

Every great person is unique , Emerson thinks. It is through embracing your uniqueness that you shall succeed:

Abide in the simple and noble regions of thy life, obey thy heart, and thou shalt reproduce the Foreworld again.

Make authenticity the foundation of your relationships

B ut what of others? If living only according to our own intuition for how we should live, does Emerson’s philosophy mean selfishness?

No, Emerson says, it means authenticity: seeking to bloom into the best versions of ourselves — not what society claims is best for us; seeking to be human beings of value — not creatures of conformity.

“Live no longer to the expectation of these deceived and deceiving people with whom we converse,” Emerson writes. “Say to them,

O father, O mother, O wife, O brother, O friend, I have lived with you after appearances hitherto. Henceforward I am the truth’s. Be it known unto you that henceforward I obey no law less than the eternal law... I shall endeavor to nourish my parents, to support my family, to be the chaste husband of one wife, — but these relations I must fill after a new and unprecedented way. I appeal from your customs. I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be the happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I will not hide my tastes or aversions…

We still strive to be the best we can be, and to respect and honor our loved ones, but through actions and behaviors that we command, not that are commanded for us.

In one concise email each Sunday, I break down a famous idea from philosophy. You get the distillation straight to your inbox:

Indeed, to be the best people we can be, we must no longer bury ourselves under layers of convention; it would be better for all of us if we could be sincere.

We might not all agree with one another, but we can respect each other’s right to disagree in the name of authenticity:

If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly, but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men’s, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth. Does this sound harsh today? You will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and, if we follow the truth, it will bring us out safe at last.

Perhaps such defiance may make us worry about upsetting our loved ones. “Yes,” Emerson concedes,

but I cannot sell my liberty and my power, to save their sensibility. Besides, all persons have their moments of reason, when they look out into the region of absolute truth; then will they justify me, and do the same thing.

People may think that by rejecting convention we are defying all codes of conduct, but such people are misguided; we are now simply living in line with the immense intelligence of nature, not the fleeting opinions of society:

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 he 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!

Living according to your own authority

T hough we may begin our lives living according to the conventions of the day or the expectations of others, there comes a time where the scales fall from our eyes and we must become ourselves. As Emerson puts it:

There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself, for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.

So, Emerson commands: do not outsource your share of life to the opinions of others, nor to fortune or luck. Take charge of your own existence, and live according to your own authority right now:

A political victory, a rise of rents, the recovery of your sick, or the return of your absent friend, or some other favorable event, raises your spirits, and you think good days are preparing for you. Do not believe it. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.

Explore Emerson’s philosophy of self-reliance further

W hat do you make of Emerson’s analysis? Do you value self-reliance over conformity? Do you agree that our intuition is often wiser than public opinion? Or is there an extent to which the ‘call’ of conscience we hear internally is actually the voice of society inside us?

If you’d like to explore Emerson’s view further, you can read his Self-Reliance essay in full in this free PDF (if you have a spare 30-40 minutes, I highly recommend doing so — it’s a fantastic read. Emerson offers powerful critiques of different aspects of society — including the objects of education, travel, and the accumulation of wealth — and treats us to some beautiful natural imagery in his illustration of how we might live happier, more authentic lives.)

You might also be interested in these related reads which discuss the importance of self-reliance for living well:

  • The Porcupine’s Dilemma: Schopenhauer’s Wistful Parable on Human Connection
  • Übermensch Explained: the Meaning of Nietzsche’s ‘Superman’
  • Albert Camus on Coping with Life's Absurdity
  • Kierkegaard On Finding the Meaning of Life
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson: The Best 5 Books to Read
  • Henry David Thoreau: The Best 5 Books to Read

Finally, if you enjoy reflecting on these kinds of themes, you might like my free Sunday email, in which I distill one philosophical idea per week, and invite you to share your view. If you’re interested, you can sign up for free below (no spam, unsubscribe any time):

Get one mind-opening philosophical idea distilled to your inbox every Sunday (free):

About the author.

Jack Maden

Jack Maden Founder Philosophy Break

Having received great value from studying philosophy for 15+ years (picking up a master’s degree along the way), I founded Philosophy Break in 2018 as an online social enterprise dedicated to making the subject’s wisdom accessible to all. Learn more about me and the project here.

If you enjoy learning about humanity’s greatest thinkers, you might like my free Sunday email. I break down one mind-opening idea from philosophy, and invite you to share your view.

Subscribe for free here , and join 11,000+ philosophers enjoying a nugget of profundity each week (free forever, no spam, unsubscribe any time).

Philosophy Break

Get one mind-opening philosophical idea distilled to your inbox every Sunday (free)

Philosophy Basics

From the Buddha to Nietzsche: join 11,000+ subscribers enjoying a nugget of profundity from the great philosophers every Sunday:

★★★★★ (50+ reviews for Philosophy Break). Unsubscribe any time.

Take Another Break

Each break takes only a few minutes to read, and is crafted to expand your mind and spark your philosophical curiosity.

Heidegger On Authenticity, the They, and Everydayness

Heidegger On Being Authentic in an Inauthentic World

4 -MIN BREAK

Iris Murdoch on the Morality of Attention, and the Hostile Mother-in-Law

Iris Murdoch on the Morality of Attention, and the Hostile Mother-in-Law

6 -MIN BREAK

Delos Museum Mosaik Dionysos 06

The Apollonian and Dionysian: Nietzsche On Art and the Psyche

14 -MIN BREAK

Destruction of Tyre, by John Martin (1789 - 1854)

The Sublime: Edmund Burke on the Feeling Thunderstorms Give You

View All Breaks

PHILOSOPHY 101

  • What is Philosophy?
  • Why is Philosophy Important?
  • Philosophy’s Best Books
  • About Philosophy Break
  • Support the Project
  • Instagram   /   Threads   /   Facebook
  • TikTok   /   Twitter

Philosophy Break is an online social enterprise dedicated to making the wisdom of philosophy instantly accessible (and useful!) for people striving to live happy, meaningful, and fulfilling lives. Learn more about us here . To offset a fraction of what it costs to maintain Philosophy Break, we participate in the Amazon Associates Program. This means if you purchase something on Amazon from a link on here, we may earn a small percentage of the sale, at no extra cost to you. This helps support Philosophy Break, and is very much appreciated.

Access our generic Amazon Affiliate link here

Privacy Policy | Cookie Policy

© Philosophy Break Ltd, 2024

Social enterprise badge

Motivate. Elevate. Laugh and Live Positively!

  • Freshly Pressed
  • Motivation and Inspiration: Daily Affirmations
  • Motivation Mondays
  • Travel: Jaunt The World
  • Weekly Photo Challenge
  • Women’s Lives Matter

Insist On Yourself; Never Imitate: Emerson On Self-Reliance

“Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him.” Ralph Waldo Emerson , Self-Reliance

Insist On Yourself; Never Imitate: Ralph Waldo Emerson On Self-Reliance - A Collage of RWE Portraits

Insist On Yourself; Never Imitate: Ralph Waldo Emerson On Self-Reliance – A Collage of RWE Portraits

“There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance

Do you have a favorite quote that you return to again and again? What is it, and why does it move you? Have you read Self-Reliance ?  Ralph Waldo Emerson – (1803-1882) was a U.S. philosopher, poet, and essayist whose treatise on – Self-Reliance – offers the quote above and a lot more. Known as an outspoken leader of the mid-19th century Transcendentalist movement , Emerson was a fierce champion of individualism and was respected for his philosophical essays and critical writings on what he called “ The countervailing pressures of society. ”  The quote above, “Insist on yourself; never imitate…”  is one of my all time favorite quotes and one you see on the first page of this blog. To appreciate the beauty and powerful insights of Emerson’s essay, you will need to take some time to read it. There are many pithy nuggets of wisdom in Self Reliance ; a 58 page discourse on what it means to develop self-reliance and trust, in our own abilities and skills, in a pressure driven world.

I remember reading Emerson’s essay back in High School, and marveling at his brilliant meanderings through philosophical social, spiritual, individual, economic and moral assertions, while exhorting us to trust ourselves, honor our humanity and divinity, and banish our desire for imitation. Imitation was anathema to Emerson and he considered it a form of creative and character suicide.  Can we learn from each other without becoming clones of the people we revere? Sure.  True growth comes from taking the best from what we’ve learned and carving out our own path.  Only puppets should repeat everything they are taught/told verbatim.  Self Reliance   nudges us to dig deep for the brilliance that is in each of us … and let our light be brilliant too. The language might strike you as somewhat archaic but, trust me, the message is vital, timely and as current as can be.  I promise that reading it would give you much to reflect on about your life, attitude and expectations. I turn to it because it is a terrific reminder that fulfilling our own destiny demands that we stay true to who we are, and nurture our talents and skills to the best of our ability. It is, in simple terms, a call to DO YOU!

“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” Ralph Waldo Emerson on Self-Reliance

“Men have looked away from themselves and at things so long that they have come to esteem the religious, learned and civil institutions as guards of property, and they deprecate assaults on these, because they feel them to be assaults on property. They measure their esteem of each other by what each has, and not by what each is.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

Do you TRUST yourself and your own gifts and skills? To develop self-reliance, we must learn to trust ourselves and our own instincts. Many of us go through life trying to be like someone else or trying to imitate someone we admire. It is fine to admire great people but, you must stay true to your own inner impulses and develop your talents instead of copying everyone and everything that flashes in front of you. Some of us are afraid of our own voice so we become great imitators of others. Why? Because we are afraid to speak our own truth for fear of public criticism or derision. Some of us would rather regurgitate what brings in XY instead of following what truly calls our heart.  We are all familiar with the saying: “Imitation is the greatest form of flattery.” However, don’t let it become a crutch that stands in the way of your own creative voice and actions.   I would say, imitation is flattery up to a point, then you must find yourself and your own path. Where are you falling short on the above dictum?  How can we learn to stay on course even in the face of misunderstanding? Read Self-Reliance and contemplate what stands in your way…. Fear is a big one but, we can work to overcome it. What else?

More Below!

“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.” Ralph Waldo Emerson on Self Reliance

“A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

How do you know when you are on the right track? In addition to the daily demands we experience  in the world, we are constantly faced with the expectations others have of us and our choices.  As much as we’d love to stay true to who we are and remain centered on our own passions, we get distracted by our fears, our petty jealousies/envy,  and our desires to be like X.  Remember what Emerson says about that?  “Envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide. ” Unless we have the understanding and peace within to stay focused on our own goals, to be present and work on our tasks, no matter how small, we will develop doubts and allow things to throw us off.  Make choices that resonate with your spirit and that allow you to share your interests and passions. To everyone, I’d say: Insist On Yourself; Never Imitate, Be at Peace with yourself … and let your spirit shine through. What are you so frightened of? Do you imagine your goals as originating from a place of peace within?  Stay true to YOU!

This post was inspired by a prompt from WP Daily Post:  Quote Me –  Do you have a favorite quote that you return to again and again? What is it, and why does it move you?

Positive Motivation Tip: Follow your own pathway and develop a fearlessness that makes you proud. You are your own best work.

PHOTO CREDITS/ATTRIBUTIONS: All Photos, Portraits of RWE: RWEmerson1859 ,  RWEmerson , Ralph Waldo Emerson 1940 Issue-3c stamp , Ralph Waldo Emerson ca1857 , Emerson3 cropped via Wikipedia

Until Next Time… Ask. Believe. Receive. © Elizabeth Obih-Frank Mirth and Motivation Positive Kismet

Share this:

' src=

As much as I like to be my own person, I feel that there is a TON to be learned by watching and learning from others. And isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

' src=

Sure, we can learn from each other but, we also need to find our own path and carve it out in our own special way. 🙂

' src=

My favorite quote is “when the winds of change blow, some build walls and others build windmills”. I even have a tattoo based on it! I try to be the kind of person who builds windmills.

Exactly. That is a great example on learning to dig deep for answers that work for us… instead of blowing witchever way the wind blows.

' src=

I agree that we need to be self reliant. It makes sense.

I feel the same way too. We need a balance of self-reliance, faith, and the help of others.:)

' src=

I love this Positive Motivation Tip! You are definitely a definition of your best work and how you present that does make a difference.

' src=

I really enjoyed reading Emerson in high school. Such thought provoking writing. It really makes you realize we need to be true to ourselves especially in a time when we are so obsessed about what everyone else is doing.

' src=

My favorite is: Lead, Follow or Get out of the way!

You can teach me, learn from me but don’t stand in my way. Finding your own path can be tough but so worth it.

' src=

“I gotta be me, I gotta be me” – well it’s the me that God creates me to be 🙂

' src=

love history and thoughts about what we learned from history we must learn to be more self reliant because in the end who else besides God and ourselves can we depend on

' src=

I’ve always love the quote that there is only one you so be the best you that you can be. No one can do you better than you.

' src=

I’ve heard of him, great quotes, he must have been amazing.

Yes, he was a visionary and inspired thinker. <3

' src=

I agree. There is so much we can learn from watching and learning from others.

' src=

Ralph Waldo Emerson is such as fascinating person some of my favorite quotes come from him. my go to quote though is “if you can dream it you can do it” from walt disney

' src=

The word Self-Reliance means a lot to me as an Indian. The Father of our Nation, Mahatma Gandhi taught us to be swadeshi (self-reliant) and said, that’s the only way to attain freedom!

' src=

We need to learn to strike that balance. Be true to yourself but also know that there are things we can learn from others

' src=

This is my Favorite Never Imitate, Be at Peace with yourself … and let your spirit shine through. What are you so frightened of? Do you imagine your goals as originating from a place of peace within

' src=

I have one favorite quotes that I keep on reading every time I feel down and weary….”I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with all my heart”. I forget whose the author of this, but this really helps me a lot in my journey as a single mom.

' src=

My favorite quote is “If you must doubt, doubt your doubts and not your beliefs” I am not sure who said it, but I love it!

' src=

My favorite motivation quote is that “Impossible is nothing” by Adidas that constantly helps me! Love your post 🙂

' src=

I absolutely LOVE Ralph Waldo Emerson! Thanks for sharing this!

' src=

I have a favorite passage from the book, “The Greatest Salesman in the World,” by Og Mandino. It goes, “I will persist until I succeed. Nor will I allow yesterday’s success to lull me into today’s complacency, for this is the great foundation of failure. I will forget the happenings of the day that is gone, whether they were good or bad, and greet the new sun with confidence that this will be the best day of my life. So long as there is breath in me, that long will I persist. For now I know one of the greatest principles of success; if I persist long enough I will win. I will persist. I will win.” I read and re-read this passage every time I feel depressed and hopeless.

' src=

We do sometimes get distracted by stupid, stupid stuff. If you look back on some things and see how much focus you lost on something that was really very small in the large scheme of things, you really have to shake your head at yourself. Or at least, I do. 🙂

' src=

I think as children we learn from imitation but as adults to grow we have to find what works for us as an individual. Develop our own interests and find ourselves through our own unique experiences. We each can experience something different no need to copy or imitate others. We should be proud of individual selves.

' src=

This is a great post. I think it can be used in almost all circumstances in life. As an author it’s a good mantra.

' src=

You are right! We are the driver of our lives so we shall make it awesome. Great post!

' src=

What a great post here. Nothing is better than being ourselves.We need to trust our voice, skills, beliefs and ourselves in general. That’s something we should never be ashamed of. After all, we’re all YOUnique. 😉 Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed reading your post.

' src=

I feel like I should be self reliant, but sometimes have trouble trusting in my own talents and skills.

' src=

I think this is why we study history…to learn from others and to not make the same mistake twice. Rarely does history repeat itself!

' src=

I didn’t know about this person until you wrote an article about him.

' src=

My favorite quote about self worth/love is “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection”. If you don’t love yourself, who will?

' src=

It’s really refreshing when you meet someone who is being their own person. It’s definitely something they have to work on!

' src=

“If I have the belief that I can do something, I will surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.” Kept this in my profile for so long to always reminds me that not because you once fail for such thing means it’s not meant for you.

I have always learned that the more we learn the better we are keeping our mind strong and alert is awesome

' src=

I actually do have a quote that has been sort of like a mantra for me as of late, but it is actually working! That quote is from one of my favourite influencers, Walt Disney, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” It’s positive and encouraging, which is just what I need.

' src=

This was an interesting post. I do believe that we need to be self-reliant and this is something I am trying to do as a blogger.

' src=

It is definitely a challenge to go with your gut instinct, rather than what others say is right or what rational thinking would have you to believe. But, usually that instinct is correct!

' src=

Believing in one’s self will also extend on others believing in you. I have seen how genuine self-confidence can attract people to admire you for who you are.

' src=

We can get inspired from other people but it is important that we be ourselves.

' src=

Although I need to have my individuality. I prefer to share my journey in this life with others. Sometimes that means relying on others to help me.

' src=

Self reliance is a tough art to master, but not impossible at all!

Agree with all the points in here!

' src=

Learning from, and imitating are two completely different things although some people like to mix them

' src=

I love this post. Being self reliant is one of the things in my life I have worked the hardest for and I am most proud of. You wrote a beautiful piece here.

Thank you1 <3

' src=

I think one of the best things to learn is being self reliant. You get stronger and you get tougher.

' src=

Loved your post! It’s nice to aspire someone but we have to be ourselves.

' src=

No favorite quotes here. My middle school was named after Emerson.

' src=

We are all uniquely beautiful so try not to look like the other.

' src=

Imitation will only get you so far, it is our own individuality that we can always rely on in the end to further reach our dreams and goals. Sure it’s okay to learn from other like you said, but forging a path on your own makes you a better person, and a force to be reckon with.

' src=

To be recognize one has be original and with substance. Imitation is not the way to sustain, however if others imitate us that confirmed that they look up or wanted to follow us.

' src=

We really have to celebrate our own individuality. I could never understand how other people could just conform to the expectations of others

' src=

if we have the confidence and self-esteem, i think there is no need to imitate others. if people only believe in the capabilities of themselves, there would be no need to look at others and copy them.

' src=

I agree! One must strive to be the first-rate version of his/herself!

' src=

Thought provoking. Though imitation is always never-genuine…I think, it is good to learn a few things from others and implement them 🙂

' src=

i have so many quotes in my life, that quote that nothing can bring peace but yourself is a good one

' src=

Hm… I think there’s definitely a mixture in this! We need others to help shape and guide us and some imitation is good but ultimately we do need to be our own person.

' src=

I often talk to my daughters about this topic when I see them acting like their friends instead of being themselves. It’s a concept we need to address starting at a young age!

' src=

Great post – I’m a sucker for quotes … although I have too many of them to choose a favorite. Bookmarked your site to go back to again. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

' src=

Lovely post! Thank you for sharing 🙂

' src=

Oh! Look at all these handsome men. I bet they all have individual and unique talents that separate them from others.

Haha! They are all portraits of Emerson… 🙂

' src=

This is not just my faovurite quote but has become the way I am “walking” through this life for years now:

“To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” – Bessie Stanley

Often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, it is an adaptation of a poem published in 1905 by Bessie Stanley.

' src=

You may start by imitating your idols but eventually you should give it your own original touch or flair. This would make your product distinctly unique with your own trademark.

' src=

I absolutely agree with you that we need a good balance of self-reliance and help. We learn so much from others!

' src=

What I feel, Self reliance makes an individual independent. It also imparts a unique individuality. It helps in shaping the personality as well.

' src=

yes, we are the maker of our own destiny, our life depends on how we make of it

' src=

some great quotes there! it took me a while to trust myself and i wish i did it earlier!

' src=

I always love to be myself & never like to imitate anyone anytime. Everyone has a different life & all you can do is learn something out of it & live accordingly. Thanks for inspiring.

' src=

I have tried to instill in my children their unique gifts shine brightest when they choose to embrace who they are. It is an ongoing dialog in our home, but I am glad we are having it.

' src=

I love that emerson quote that you shared! And agree with you, we need a balance in life

' src=

I agree with Emerson. Too many times people get caught up in what theyre worth based on what they have instead of their real worth being in who they are as people. Inspiring

' src=

This is a terrific reminder. I agree that we need to be self reliant.. It’s very important.

Emerson’s quotes are great. I think the only way we can be successful and find happiness is to first believe in ourselves and have confidence. From there, we can build friendships and relationships that come from a stable and authentic place.

' src=

None live in a vacuum and nothing is created in a vacuum. One of my favorite quotes is ‘no man is an island unto himself.’

' src=

Yes!!! Totally agree!!!! You have to follow what your own head and mind want. It’s the only way you will ever be happy dealing with anything in life 🙂

' src=

It is always good to be self-reliant – but it is also important to always be learning and growing and seeing what others do that is successful to improve yourself.

' src=

My favorite quote which was shared to me by my mother is: The only difference between a good day and a bad day is your attitude.

another fave quote of mine is this: The best and the most beautiful thing in the world cannot be seen or even touch.. it must be felt by the heart.

Your Comment is Appreciated! Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed .

♥A Freshly Pressed Blog – Visit More FP Blogs!

insist on yourself never imitate essay

Favorite Quote

“Insist on yourself. Never imitate.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Weekly Great Reads

“Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose.” By Tony Hsieh

“ROADMAP to Success.” By Bill Howe, Stephen Covey, and Ken Blanchard

“Prayers to the Great Creator: Prayers and Declarations for a Meaningful Life.” By Julia Cameron

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Email Address

FOLLOW ON WP

Recent entries.

  • REFLECTIONS: Happy New Year! #stayhealthy
  • Motivation 2021: Mother’s Day Reflections #mothersday
  • LOVE: 14 Valentine’s Day Poems, Quotes & Tips
  • Motivation Mondays: MLK Day – I Have A Dream Speech
  • MOTIVATION 2020: 33 GRATITUDE TIPS FOR THE HOLIDAYS!
  • Motivation Mondays: THANKSGIVING POEMS & QUOTES

Search This Blog

Use mirthandmotivationtravels for 30% off 1st box.

Win A Free trip to Venice: Happy Valentine's Day!

Win A Free trip to Venice: Happy Valentine's Day!

Featured on blogher.com

insist on yourself never imitate essay

Blog Meets Brand

Blog Meets Brand

#WomensLives Matter

insist on yourself never imitate essay

Sheknows Experts

insist on yourself never imitate essay

SITSGirls – Sway Group

alt text

BLOG MILESTONE: MY 1000TH POST!

Mirth And Motivation 1000th Post Milestone

Mirth And Motivation 1000th Post Milestone

Join Our Blog Support & Engagement Group

insist on yourself never imitate essay

WP BLOGGER: HAPPY 12TH ANNIVERSARY!

Happy Blog Anniversary

Happy Blog Anniversary

POST A DAY/WEEK CHALLENGE

insist on yourself never imitate essay

Photo 101 Revisited: Week 1 & 2 - Take Ten! - Badge

Calendar of Posts

Amma -the hugging saint.

insist on yourself never imitate essay

  • Food Files (38)
  • Global Events (780)
  • Grace & Gratitude (252)
  • Interviews (40)
  • Love Life (321)
  • Misc Reviews (4)
  • Motivation 2020 (15)
  • Motivation 2021 (2)
  • Motivation 2022 (1)
  • Motivation Mondays (205)
  • Movie Reviews (1)
  • Musical Notes (91)
  • Positive Advice (1,602)
  • Post A Day 2011 (376)
  • Posts & Photos 2008 – 2010 (4)
  • Posts & Photos 2012 (312)
  • Posts & Photos 2013 (62)
  • Posts & Photos 2014 (124)
  • Posts & Photos 2015 (184)
  • Posts & Photos 2016 (163)
  • Posts & Photos 2017 (123)
  • Posts & Photos 2018 (76)
  • Posts & Photos 2019 (32)
  • Posts & Photos 2020 (20)
  • Posts & Photos 2021 (3)
  • Posts & Photos 2022 (1)
  • Weekly Photo Challenge (309)
  • World of Books (59)

Positive Kismet Blog

Positive Kismet

My Facebook Page

Member of The Internet Defense League

BlogLovin – Elizof

insist on yourself never imitate essay

COPYRIGHT NOTIFICATION

© Elizabeth Obih-Frank and Mirth And Motivation, 2008-2024. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Elizabeth Obih-Frank and Mirth And Motivation with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

From My Brilliant and Mirthful Motivators

Mirth and motivation: a rotating blogroll & caring community.

momelite2

Author – by Elizabeth Obih-Frank of Mirth and Motivation

Recent tweets, discover more from mirth and motivation.

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Type your email…

Continue reading

ENGL405: The American Renaissance

Ralph waldo emerson's "self-reliance".

Read Emerson's famous essay, which reflects the character of self-confidence, and think about how it defined the Jacksonian era. Emerson's oft-quoted essay "Self-Reliance" is considered one of the finest examples of the author's style, and a clear example of his thought. The essay was first published in 1841, but elements of the essay appeared in one of the author's journal entries as early as 1832, and in various public lectures given in the intervening years. As such, "Self-Reliance" reflects the idea that individualism was a necessary ingredient for success popular during the 1830s and 1840s.

"Ne te quaesiveris extra."

"Man is his own star; and the soul that can  Render an honest and a perfect man,  Commands all light, all influence, all fate;  Nothing to him falls early or too late.  Our acts our angels are, or good or ill,  Our fatal shadows that walk by us still."

Epilogue to Beaumont and Fletcher's Honest Man's Fortune

Cast the bantling on the rocks,  Suckle him with the she-wolf's teat;  Wintered with the hawk and fox,  Power and speed be hands and feet.

I read the other day some verses written by an eminent painter which were original and not conventional. The soul always hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may. The sentiment they instil is of more value than any thought they may contain. To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, – that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost, – and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment. Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is, that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men but what they thought. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.

There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried. Not for nothing one face, one character, one fact, makes much impression on him, and another none. This sculpture in the memory is not without preestablished harmony. The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might testify of that particular ray. We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents. It may be safely trusted as proportionate and of good issues, so it be faithfully imparted, but God will not have his work made manifest by cowards. A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope.

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.

What pretty oracles nature yields us on this text, in the face and behaviour of children, babes, and even brutes! That divided and rebel mind, that distrust of a sentiment because our arithmetic has computed the strength and means opposed to our purpose, these have not. Their mind being whole, their eye is as yet unconquered, and when we look in their faces, we are disconcerted. Infancy conforms to nobody: all conform to it, so that one babe commonly makes four or five out of the adults who prattle and play to it. So God has armed youth and puberty and manhood no less with its own piquancy and charm, and made it enviable and gracious and its claims not to be put by, if it will stand by itself. Do not think the youth has no force, because he cannot speak to you and me. Hark! in the next room his voice is sufficiently clear and emphatic. It seems he knows how to speak to his contemporaries. Bashful or bold, then, he will know how to make us seniors very unnecessary.

The nonchalance of boys who are sure of a dinner, and would disdain as much as a lord to do or say aught to conciliate one, is the healthy attitude of human nature. A boy is in the parlour what the pit is in the playhouse; independent, irresponsible, looking out from his corner on such people and facts as pass by, he tries and sentences them on their merits, in the swift, summary way of boys, as good, bad, interesting, silly, eloquent, troublesome. He cumbers himself never about consequences, about interests: he gives an independent, genuine verdict. You must court him: he does not court you. But the man is, as it were, clapped into jail by his consciousness. As soon as he has once acted or spoken with eclat, he is a committed person, watched by the sympathy or the hatred of hundreds, whose affections must now enter into his account. There is no Lethe for this. Ah, that he could pass again into his neutrality! Who can thus avoid all pledges, and having observed, observe again from the same unaffected, unbiased, unbribable, unaffrighted innocence, must always be formidable. He would utter opinions on all passing affairs, which being seen to be not private, but necessary, would sink like darts into the ear of men, and put them in fear.

These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world. Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world. I remember an answer which when quite young I was prompted to make to a valued adviser, who was wont to importune me with the dear old doctrines of the church. On my saying, What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within? my friend suggested, – "But these impulses may be from below, not from above". I replied, "They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil's child, I will live then from the Devil". No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature. Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution, the only wrong what is against it. A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition, as if every thing were titular and ephemeral but he. I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions. Every decent and well-spoken individual affects and sways me more than is right. I ought to go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways. If malice and vanity wear the coat of philanthropy, shall that pass? If an angry bigot assumes this bountiful cause of Abolition, and comes to me with his last news from Barbadoes, why should I not say to him, `Go love thy infant; love thy wood-chopper: be good-natured and modest: have that grace; and never varnish your hard, uncharitable ambition with this incredible tenderness for black folk a thousand miles off. Thy love afar is spite at home.' Rough and graceless would be such greeting, but truth is handsomer than the affectation of love. Your goodness must have some edge to it, – else it is none. The doctrine of hatred must be preached as the counteraction of the doctrine of love when that pules and whines. I shun father and mother and wife and brother, when my genius calls me. I would write on the lintels of the door-post,  Whim . I hope it is somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation. Expect me not to show cause why I seek or why I exclude company. Then, again, do not tell me, as a good man did to-day, of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they  my  poor? I tell thee, thou foolish philanthropist, that I grudge the dollar, the dime, the cent, I give to such men as do not belong to me and to whom I do not belong. There is a class of persons to whom by all spiritual affinity I am bought and sold; for them I will go to prison, if need be; but your miscellaneous popular charities; the education at college of fools; the building of meeting-houses to the vain end to which many now stand; alms to sots; and the thousandfold Relief Societies; – though I confess with shame I sometimes succumb and give the dollar, it is a wicked dollar which by and by I shall have the manhood to withhold.

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. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. – `Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' – Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

I suppose no man can violate his nature. All the sallies of his will are rounded in by the law of his being, as the inequalities of Andes and Himmaleh are insignificant in the curve of the sphere. Nor does it matter how you gauge and try him. A character is like an acrostic or Alexandrian stanza; – read it forward, backward, or across, it still spells the same thing. In this pleasing, contrite wood-life which God allows me, let me record day by day my honest thought without prospect or retrospect, and, I cannot doubt, it will be found symmetrical, though I mean it not, and see it not. My book should smell of pines and resound with the hum of insects. The swallow over my window should interweave that thread or straw he carries in his bill into my web also. We pass for what we are. Character teaches above our wills. Men imagine that they communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment.

There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. For of one will, the actions will be harmonious, however unlike they seem. These varieties are lost sight of at a little distance, at a little height of thought. One tendency unites them all. The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks. See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency. 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. What makes the majesty of the heroes of the senate and the field, which so fills the imagination? The consciousness of a train of great days and victories behind. They shed an united light on the advancing actor. He is attended as by a visible escort of angels. That is it which throws thunder into Chatham's voice, and dignity into Washington's port, and America into Adams's eye. Honor is venerable to us because it is no ephemeris. It is always ancient virtue. We worship it to-day because it is not of to-day. We love it and pay it homage, because it is not a trap for our love and homage, but is self-dependent, self-derived, and therefore of an old immaculate pedigree, even if shown in a young person.

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. A man Caesar is born, and for ages after we have a Roman Empire. Christ is born, and millions of minds so grow and cleave to his genius, that he is confounded with virtue and the possible of man. An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man; as, Monachism, of the Hermit Antony; the Reformation, of Luther; Quakerism, of Fox; Methodism, of Wesley; Abolition, of Clarkson. Scipio, Milton called "the height of Rome"; and all history resolves itself very easily into the biography of a few stout and earnest persons.

Let a man then know his worth, and keep things under his feet. Let him not peep or steal, or skulk up and down with the air of a charity-boy, a bastard, or an interloper, in the world which exists for him. But the man in the street, finding no worth in himself which corresponds to the force which built a tower or sculptured a marble god, feels poor when he looks on these. To him a palace, a statue, or a costly book have an alien and forbidding air, much like a gay equipage, and seem to say like that, `Who are you, Sir?' Yet they all are his, suitors for his notice, petitioners to his faculties that they will come out and take possession. The picture waits for my verdict: it is not to command me, but I am to settle its claims to praise. That popular fable of the sot who was picked up dead drunk in the street, carried to the duke's house, washed and dressed and laid in the duke's bed, and, on his waking, treated with all obsequious ceremony like the duke, and assured that he had been insane, owes its popularity to the fact, that it symbolizes so well the state of man, who is in the world a sort of sot, but now and then wakes up, exercises his reason, and finds himself a true prince.

Our reading is mendicant and sycophantic. In history, our imagination plays us false. Kingdom and lordship, power and estate, are a gaudier vocabulary than private John and Edward in a small house and common day's work; but the things of life are the same to both; the sum total of both is the same. Why all this deference to Alfred, and Scanderbeg, and Gustavus? Suppose they were virtuous; did they wear out virtue? As great a stake depends on your private act to-day, as followed their public and renowned steps. When private men shall act with original views, the lustre will be transferred from the actions of kings to those of gentlemen.

The world has been instructed by its kings, who have so magnetized the eyes of nations. It has been taught by this colossal symbol the mutual reverence that is due from man to man. The joyful loyalty with which men have everywhere suffered the king, the noble, or the great proprietor to walk among them by a law of his own, make his own scale of men and things, and reverse theirs, pay for benefits not with money but with honor, and represent the law in his person, was the hieroglyphic by which they obscurely signified their consciousness of their own right and comeliness, the right of every man.

The magnetism which all original action exerts is explained when we inquire the reason of self-trust. Who is the Trustee? What is the aboriginal Self, on which a universal reliance may be grounded? What is the nature and power of that science-baffling star, without parallax, without calculable elements, which shoots a ray of beauty even into trivial and impure actions, if the least mark of independence appear? The inquiry leads us to that source, at once the essence of genius, of virtue, and of life, which we call Spontaneity or Instinct. We denote this primary wisdom as Intuition, whilst all later teachings are tuitions. In that deep force, the last fact behind which analysis cannot go, all things find their common origin. For, the sense of being which in calm hours rises, we know not how, in the soul, is not diverse from things, from space, from light, from time, from man, but one with them, and proceeds obviously from the same source whence their life and being also proceed. We first share the life by which things exist, and afterwards see them as appearances in nature, and forget that we have shared their cause. Here is the fountain of action and of thought. Here are the lungs of that inspiration which giveth man wisdom, and which cannot be denied without impiety and atheism. We lie in the lap of immense intelligence, which makes us receivers of its truth and organs of its activity. When we discern justice, when we discern truth, we do nothing of ourselves, but allow a passage to its beams. If we ask whence this comes, if we seek to pry into the soul that causes, all philosophy is at fault. Its presence or its absence is all we can affirm. Every man discriminates between the voluntary acts of his mind, and his involuntary perceptions, and knows that to his involuntary perceptions a perfect faith is due. He may err in the expression of them, but he knows that these things are so, like day and night, not to be disputed. My wilful actions and acquisitions are but roving; – the idlest reverie, the faintest native emotion, command my curiosity and respect. Thoughtless people contradict as readily the statement of perceptions as of opinions, or rather much more readily; for, they do not distinguish between perception and notion. They fancy that I choose to see this or that thing. But perception is not whimsical, but fatal. If I see a trait, my children will see it after me, and in course of time, all mankind, – although it may chance that no one has seen it before me. For my perception of it is as much a fact as the sun.

The relations of the soul to the divine spirit are so pure, that it is profane to seek to interpose helps. It must be that when God speaketh he should communicate, not one thing, but all things; should fill the world with his voice; should scatter forth light, nature, time, souls, from the centre of the present thought; and new date and new create the whole. Whenever a mind is simple, and receives a divine wisdom, old things pass away, – means, teachers, texts, temples fall; it lives now, and absorbs past and future into the present hour. All things are made sacred by relation to it, – one as much as another. All things are dissolved to their centre by their cause, and, in the universal miracle, petty and particular miracles disappear. If, therefore, a man claims to know and speak of God, and carries you backward to the phraseology of some old mouldered nation in another country, in another world, believe him not. Is the acorn better than the oak which is its fulness and completion? Is the parent better than the child into whom he has cast his ripened being? Whence, then, this worship of the past? The centuries are conspirators against the sanity and authority of the soul. Time and space are but physiological colors which the eye makes, but the soul is light; where it is, is day; where it was, is night; and history is an impertinence and an injury, if it be any thing more than a cheerful apologue or parable of my being and becoming.

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.

This should be plain enough. Yet see what strong intellects dare not yet hear God himself, unless he speak the phraseology of I know not what David, or Jeremiah, or Paul. We shall not always set so great a price on a few texts, on a few lives. We are like children who repeat by rote the sentences of grandames and tutors, and, as they grow older, of the men of talents and character they chance to see, – painfully recollecting the exact words they spoke; afterwards, when they come into the point of view which those had who uttered these sayings, they understand them, and are willing to let the words go; for, at any time, they can use words as good when occasion comes. If we live truly, we shall see truly. It is as easy for the strong man to be strong, as it is for the weak to be weak. When we have new perception, we shall gladly disburden the memory of its hoarded treasures as old rubbish. When a man lives with God, his voice shall be as sweet as the murmur of the brook and the rustle of the corn.

And now at last the highest truth on this subject remains unsaid; probably cannot be said; for all that we say is the far-off remembering of the intuition. That thought, by what I can now nearest approach to say it, is this. When good is near you, when you have life in yourself, it is not by any known or accustomed way; you shall not discern the foot-prints of any other; you shall not see the face of man; you shall not hear any name; – the way, the thought, the good, shall be wholly strange and new. It shall exclude example and experience. You take the way from man, not to man. All persons that ever existed are its forgotten ministers. Fear and hope are alike beneath it. There is somewhat low even in hope. In the hour of vision, there is nothing that can be called gratitude, nor properly joy. The soul raised over passion beholds identity and eternal causation, perceives the self-existence of Truth and Right, and calms itself with knowing that all things go well. Vast spaces of nature, the Atlantic Ocean, the South Sea, – long intervals of time, years, centuries, – are of no account. This which I think and feel underlay every former state of life and circumstances, as it does underlie my present, and what is called life, and what is called death.

Life only avails, not the having lived. Power ceases in the instant of repose; it resides in the moment of transition from a past to a new state, in the shooting of the gulf, in the darting to an aim. This one fact the world hates, that the soul  becomes ; for that for ever degrades the past, turns all riches to poverty, all reputation to a shame, confounds the saint with the rogue, shoves Jesus and Judas equally aside. Why, then, do we prate of self-reliance? Inasmuch as the soul is present, there will be power not confident but agent. To talk of reliance is a poor external way of speaking. Speak rather of that which relies, because it works and is. Who has more obedience than I masters me, though he should not raise his finger. Round him I must revolve by the gravitation of spirits. We fancy it rhetoric, when we speak of eminent virtue. We do not yet see that virtue is Height, and that a man or a company of men, plastic and permeable to principles, by the law of nature must overpower and ride all cities, nations, kings, rich men, poets, who are not.

This is the ultimate fact which we so quickly reach on this, as on every topic, the resolution of all into the ever-blessed ONE. Self-existence is the attribute of the Supreme Cause, and it constitutes the measure of good by the degree in which it enters into all lower forms. All things real are so by so much virtue as they contain. Commerce, husbandry, hunting, whaling, war, eloquence, personal weight, are somewhat, and engage my respect as examples of its presence and impure action. I see the same law working in nature for conservation and growth. Power is in nature the essential measure of right. Nature suffers nothing to remain in her kingdoms which cannot help itself. The genesis and maturation of a planet, its poise and orbit, the bended tree recovering itself from the strong wind, the vital resources of every animal and vegetable, are demonstrations of the self-sufficing, and therefore self-relying soul.

Thus all concentrates: let us not rove; let us sit at home with the cause. Let us stun and astonish the intruding rabble of men and books and institutions, by a simple declaration of the divine fact. Bid the invaders take the shoes from off their feet, for God is here within. Let our simplicity judge them, and our docility to our own law demonstrate the poverty of nature and fortune beside our native riches.

But now we are a mob. Man does not stand in awe of man, nor is his genius admonished to stay at home, to put itself in communication with the internal ocean, but it goes abroad to beg a cup of water of the urns of other men. We must go alone. I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching. How far off, how cool, how chaste the persons look, begirt each one with a precinct or sanctuary! So let us always sit. Why should we assume the faults of our friend, or wife, or father, or child, because they sit around our hearth, or are said to have the same blood? All men have my blood, and I have all men's. Not for that will I adopt their petulance or folly, even to the extent of being ashamed of it. But your isolation must not be mechanical, but spiritual, that is, must be elevation. At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door, and say, – `Come out unto us.' But keep thy state; come not into their confusion. The power men possess to annoy me, I give them by a weak curiosity. No man can come near me but through my act. "What we love that we have, but by desire we bereave ourselves of the love."

If we cannot at once rise to the sanctities of obedience and faith, let us at least resist our temptations; let us enter into the state of war, and wake Thor and Woden, courage and constancy, in our Saxon breasts. This is to be done in our smooth times by speaking the truth. Check this lying hospitality and lying affection. Live no longer to the expectation of these deceived and deceiving people with whom we converse. Say to them, O father, O mother, O wife, O brother, O friend, I have lived with you after appearances hitherto. Henceforward I am the truth's. Be it known unto you that henceforward I obey no law less than the eternal law. I will have no covenants but proximities. I shall endeavour to nourish my parents, to support my family, to be the chaste husband of one wife, – but these relations I must fill after a new and unprecedented way. I appeal from your customs. I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be the happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me, and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly, but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men's, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth. Does this sound harsh to-day? You will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and, if we follow the truth, it will bring us out safe at last. – But so you may give these friends pain. Yes, but I cannot sell my liberty and my power, to save their sensibility. Besides, all persons have their moments of reason, when they look out into the region of absolute truth; then will they justify me, and do the same thing.

The populace think that your rejection of popular standards is a rejection of all standard, and mere antinomianism; and the bold sensualist will use the name of philosophy to gild his crimes. But the law of consciousness abides. There are two confessionals, in one or the other of which we must be shriven. You may fulfil your round of duties by clearing yourself in the  direct , or in the  reflex  way. Consider whether you have satisfied your relations to father, mother, cousin, neighbour, town, cat, and dog; whether any of these can upbraid you. But I may also neglect this reflex standard, and absolve me to myself. I have my own stern claims and perfect circle. It denies the name of duty to many offices that are called duties. But if I can discharge its debts, it enables me to dispense with the popular code. If any one imagines that this law is lax, let him keep its commandment one day.

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 he 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!

If any man consider the present aspects of what is called by distinction  society , he will see the need of these ethics. The sinew and heart of man seem to be drawn out, and we are become timorous, desponding whimperers. We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other. Our age yields no great and perfect persons. We want men and women who shall renovate life and our social state, but we see that most natures are insolvent, cannot satisfy their own wants, have an ambition out of all proportion to their practical force, and do lean and beg day and night continually. Our housekeeping is mendicant, our arts, our occupations, our marriages, our religion, we have not chosen, but society has chosen for us. We are parlour soldiers. We shun the rugged battle of fate, where strength is born.

If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is  ruined . If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who  teams it ,  farms it ,  peddles , keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast with his days, and feels no shame in not `studying a profession,' for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances. Let a Stoic open the resources of man, and tell men they are not leaning willows, but can and must detach themselves; that with the exercise of self-trust, new powers shall appear; that a man is the word made flesh, born to shed healing to the nations, that he should be ashamed of our compassion, and that the moment he acts from himself, tossing the laws, the books, idolatries, and customs out of the window, we pity him no more, but thank and revere him, – and that teacher shall restore the life of man to splendor, and make his name dear to all history.

It is easy to see that a greater self-reliance must work a revolution in all the offices and relations of men; in their religion; in their education; in their pursuits; their modes of living; their association; in their property; in their speculative views.

1. In what prayers do men allow themselves! That which they call a holy office is not so much as brave and manly. Prayer looks abroad and asks for some foreign addition to come through some foreign virtue, and loses itself in endless mazes of natural and supernatural, and mediatorial and miraculous. Prayer that craves a particular commodity, – any thing less than all good, – is vicious. Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view. It is the soliloquy of a beholding and jubilant soul. It is the spirit of God pronouncing his works good. But prayer as a means to effect a private end is meanness and theft. It supposes dualism and not unity in nature and consciousness. As soon as the man is at one with God, he will not beg. He will then see prayer in all action. The prayer of the farmer kneeling in his field to weed it, the prayer of the rower kneeling with the stroke of his oar, are true prayers heard throughout nature, though for cheap ends. Caratach, in Fletcher's Bonduca, when admonished to inquire the mind of the god Audate, replies, –

"His hidden meaning lies in our endeavours;

Our valors are our best gods."

Another sort of false prayers are our regrets. Discontent is the want of self-reliance: it is infirmity of will. Regret calamities, if you can thereby help the sufferer; if not, attend your own work, and already the evil begins to be repaired. Our sympathy is just as base. We come to them who weep foolishly, and sit down and cry for company, instead of imparting to them truth and health in rough electric shocks, putting them once more in communication with their own reason. The secret of fortune is joy in our hands. Welcome evermore to gods and men is the self-helping man. For him all doors are flung wide: him all tongues greet, all honors crown, all eyes follow with desire. Our love goes out to him and embraces him, because he did not need it. We solicitously and apologetically caress and celebrate him, because he held on his way and scorned our disapprobation. The gods love him because men hated him. "To the persevering mortal", said Zoroaster, "the blessed Immortals are swift".

As men's prayers are a disease of the will, so are their creeds a disease of the intellect. They say with those foolish Israelites, `Let not God speak to us, lest we die. Speak thou, speak any man with us, and we will obey.' Everywhere I am hindered of meeting God in my brother, because he has shut his own temple doors, and recites fables merely of his brother's, or his brother's brother's God. Every new mind is a new classification. If it prove a mind of uncommon activity and power, a Locke, a Lavoisier, a Hutton, a Bentham, a Fourier, it imposes its classification on other men, and lo! a new system. In proportion to the depth of the thought, and so to the number of the objects it touches and brings within reach of the pupil, is his complacency. But chiefly is this apparent in creeds and churches, which are also classifications of some powerful mind acting on the elemental thought of duty, and man's relation to the Highest. Such is Calvinism, Quakerism, Swedenborgism. The pupil takes the same delight in subordinating every thing to the new terminology, as a girl who has just learned botany in seeing a new earth and new seasons thereby. It will happen for a time, that the pupil will find his intellectual power has grown by the study of his master's mind. But in all unbalanced minds, the classification is idolized, passes for the end, and not for a speedily exhaustible means, so that the walls of the system blend to their eye in the remote horizon with the walls of the universe; the luminaries of heaven seem to them hung on the arch their master built. They cannot imagine how you aliens have any right to see, – how you can see; `It must be somehow that you stole the light from us.' They do not yet perceive, that light, unsystematic, indomitable, will break into any cabin, even into theirs. Let them chirp awhile and call it their own. If they are honest and do well, presently their neat new pinfold will be too strait and low, will crack, will lean, will rot and vanish, and the immortal light, all young and joyful, million-orbed, million-colored, will beam over the universe as on the first morning.

2. It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Travelling, whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for all educated Americans. They who made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the imagination did so by sticking fast where they were, like an axis of the earth. In manly hours, we feel that duty is our place. The soul is no traveller; the wise man stays at home, and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him from his house, or into foreign lands, he is at home still, and shall make men sensible by the expression of his countenance, that he goes the missionary of wisdom and virtue, and visits cities and men like a sovereign, and not like an interloper or a valet.

I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe, for the purposes of art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man is first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater than he knows. He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things. In Thebes, in Palmyra, his will and mind have become old and dilapidated as they. He carries ruins to ruins.

Travelling is a fool's paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.

3. But the rage of travelling is a symptom of a deeper unsoundness affecting the whole intellectual action. The intellect is vagabond, and our system of education fosters restlessness. Our minds travel when our bodies are forced to stay at home. We imitate; and what is imitation but the travelling of the mind? Our houses are built with foreign taste; our shelves are garnished with foreign ornaments; our opinions, our tastes, our faculties, lean, and follow the Past and the Distant. The soul created the arts wherever they have flourished. It was in his own mind that the artist sought his model. It was an application of his own thought to the thing to be done and the conditions to be observed. And why need we copy the Doric or the Gothic model? Beauty, convenience, grandeur of thought, and quaint expression are as near to us as to any, and if the American artist will study with hope and love the precise thing to be done by him, considering the climate, the soil, the length of the day, the wants of the people, the habit and form of the government, he will create a house in which all these will find themselves fitted, and taste and sentiment will be satisfied also.

Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. No man yet knows what it is, nor can, till that person has exhibited it. Where is the master who could have taught Shakspeare? Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton? Every great man is a unique. The Scipionism of Scipio is precisely that part he could not borrow. Shakspeare will never be made by the study of Shakspeare. Do that which is assigned you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much. There is at this moment for you an utterance brave and grand as that of the colossal chisel of Phidias, or trowel of the Egyptians, or the pen of Moses, or Dante, but different from all these. Not possibly will the soul all rich, all eloquent, with thousand-cloven tongue, deign to repeat itself; but if you can hear what these patriarchs say, surely you can reply to them in the same pitch of voice; for the ear and the tongue are two organs of one nature. Abide in the simple and noble regions of thy life, obey thy heart, and thou shalt reproduce the Foreworld again.

4. As our Religion, our Education, our Art look abroad, so does our spirit of society. All men plume themselves on the improvement of society, and no man improves.

Society never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains on the other. It undergoes continual changes; it is barbarous, it is civilized, it is christianized, it is rich, it is scientific; but this change is not amelioration. For every thing that is given, something is taken. Society acquires new arts, and loses old instincts. What a contrast between the well-clad, reading, writing, thinking American, with a watch, a pencil, and a bill of exchange in his pocket, and the naked New Zealander, whose property is a club, a spear, a mat, and an undivided twentieth of a shed to sleep under! But compare the health of the two men, and you shall see that the white man has lost his aboriginal strength. If the traveller tell us truly, strike the savage with a broad axe, and in a day or two the flesh shall unite and heal as if you struck the blow into soft pitch, and the same blow shall send the white to his grave.

The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. He is supported on crutches, but lacks so much support of muscle. He has a fine Geneva watch, but he fails of the skill to tell the hour by the sun. A Greenwich nautical almanac he has, and so being sure of the information when he wants it, the man in the street does not know a star in the sky. The solstice he does not observe; the equinox he knows as little; and the whole bright calendar of the year is without a dial in his mind. His note-books impair his memory; his libraries overload his wit; the insurance-office increases the number of accidents; and it may be a question whether machinery does not encumber; whether we have not lost by refinement some energy, by a Christianity entrenched in establishments and forms, some vigor of wild virtue. For every Stoic was a Stoic; but in Christendom where is the Christian?

There is no more deviation in the moral standard than in the standard of height or bulk. No greater men are now than ever were. A singular equality may be observed between the great men of the first and of the last ages; nor can all the science, art, religion, and philosophy of the nineteenth century avail to educate greater men than Plutarch's heroes, three or four and twenty centuries ago. Not in time is the race progressive. Phocion, Socrates, Anaxagoras, Diogenes, are great men, but they leave no class. He who is really of their class will not be called by their name, but will be his own man, and, in his turn, the founder of a sect. The arts and inventions of each period are only its costume, and do not invigorate men. The harm of the improved machinery may compensate its good. Hudson and Behring accomplished so much in their fishing-boats, as to astonish Parry and Franklin, whose equipment exhausted the resources of science and art. Galileo, with an opera-glass, discovered a more splendid series of celestial phenomena than any one since. Columbus found the New World in an undecked boat. It is curious to see the periodical disuse and perishing of means and machinery, which were introduced with loud laudation a few years or centuries before. The great genius returns to essential man. We reckoned the improvements of the art of war among the triumphs of science, and yet Napoleon conquered Europe by the bivouac, which consisted of falling back on naked valor, and disencumbering it of all aids. The Emperor held it impossible to make a perfect army, says Las Casas, "without abolishing our arms, magazines, commissaries, and carriages, until, in imitation of the Roman custom, the soldier should receive his supply of corn, grind it in his hand-mill, and bake his bread himself".

Society is a wave. The wave moves onward, but the water of which it is composed does not. The same particle does not rise from the valley to the ridge. Its unity is only phenomenal. The persons who make up a nation to-day, next year die, and their experience with them.

And so the reliance on Property, including the reliance on governments which protect it, is the want of self-reliance. Men have looked away from themselves and at things so long, that they have come to esteem the religious, learned, and civil institutions as guards of property, and they deprecate assaults on these, because they feel them to be assaults on property. They measure their esteem of each other by what each has, and not by what each is. But a cultivated man becomes ashamed of his property, out of new respect for his nature. Especially he hates what he has, if he see that it is accidental, – came to him by inheritance, or gift, or crime; then he feels that it is not having; it does not belong to him, has no root in him, and merely lies there, because no revolution or no robber takes it away. But that which a man is does always by necessity acquire, and what the man acquires is living property, which does not wait the beck of rulers, or mobs, or revolutions, or fire, or storm, or bankruptcies, but perpetually renews itself wherever the man breathes. "Thy lot or portion of life", said the Caliph Ali, "is seeking after thee; therefore be at rest from seeking after it". Our dependence on these foreign goods leads us to our slavish respect for numbers. The political parties meet in numerous conventions; the greater the concourse, and with each new uproar of announcement, The delegation from Essex! The Democrats from New Hampshire! The Whigs of Maine! the young patriot feels himself stronger than before by a new thousand of eyes and arms. In like manner the reformers summon conventions, and vote and resolve in multitude. Not so, O friends! will the God deign to enter and inhabit you, but by a method precisely the reverse. It is only as a man puts off all foreign support, and stands alone, that I see him to be strong and to prevail. He is weaker by every recruit to his banner. Is not a man better than a town? Ask nothing of men, and in the endless mutation, thou only firm column must presently appear the upholder of all that surrounds thee. He who knows that power is inborn, that he is weak because he has looked for good out of him and elsewhere, and so perceiving, throws himself unhesitatingly on his thought, instantly rights himself, stands in the erect position, commands his limbs, works miracles; just as a man who stands on his feet is stronger than a man who stands on his head.

So use all that is called Fortune. Most men gamble with her, and gain all, and lose all, as her wheel rolls. But do thou leave as unlawful these winnings, and deal with Cause and Effect, the chancellors of God. In the Will work and acquire, and thou hast chained the wheel of Chance, and shalt sit hereafter out of fear from her rotations. A political victory, a rise of rents, the recovery of your sick, or the return of your absent friend, or some other favorable event, raises your spirits, and you think good days are preparing for you. Do not believe it. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.

Public Domain Mark

insist on yourself never imitate essay

Elizabeth J. Peterson

Thinking Through Philosophy, Culture, and Psychology

insist on yourself never imitate essay

Integrity and Inner Solitude: Emerson on Self-Reliance

What is the ultimate expression of self-reliance?

Ralph Waldo Emerson, in an 1841 essay, posits that it hinges on the choice one makes to think for themselves. Society provides much good for each of us; shelter, protection from harm, opportunities for technology, education, and work which would otherwise never exist. As with anything in life, though, there are potential drawbacks. For all the many options society presents as great carrots to pursue, they cannot make those things meaningful or worthwhile.

Emerson begins “Self-Reliance” with a Latin maxim, introducing the subject of his essay.

“Do not seek yourself outside yourself.”

My expectation upon picking up this particular essay was that it would espouse the virtues of physical labor for oneself and Emerson does touch on this toward the end of the piece. In order to be able to truly make those actions free, one must think independently. The heart of self-reliance is developing the resolution to think for one’s self.

Echoing the wisdom of the Stoics himself, Emerson would encourage us to focus on the inner person and those things which are within our control, and to act in line with the values we’ve determined for ourselves.

Self-reliance, in the context of this discussion, is not about building your own house or growing your own food – though it certainly could include these things. In “Self-Reliance”, Emerson is encouraging us to step away from the need for acceptance by society, and instead look to our own values and be bold in acting in line with them. Society can provide amazing and unique opportunities to us, but it can not tell us what really matters in life. These value judgments, at best, can only be affirmed in society. They must be determined by the individual. This is difficult, personal work, requiring deep thought, reflection, and introspection. It’s the most important work you can do.

Society only presents options for you to accept or deny; it can not create value. This understanding can be freeing or terrifying. This realization can pave the way for reflection and more meaningful interactions. At the same time, if you had hoped to find principles in your surroundings, this assertion that they aren’t there might be frightening. The only solution is self-reliance, which Emerson shall detail.

Who is Emerson addressing?

Nineteenth century America was a wild and dangerous place. Between people drinking hard liquor like it was water, the lack of penicillin and cleanliness, the proliferation of violence, a Civil War, and the devil-may-care spending which characterized the later years of the Gilded Age, these hundred years of American history are just as baffling as they are impressive. It is during this time of restlessness that Emerson sees popular American tastes swinging back toward the Old World of English aristocratic society. The idea of choosing to turn back to what has already been found wanting was ludicrous to Emerson; he wanted Americans to look within themselves, and stand boldly for the principles they found there. Independence, democracy, and yes, self-reliance are all embodied in the American spirit itself, and in the ideal American to which Emerson was pointing.

“Self-Reliance” was published ten years after French statesman Alexis de Tocqueville’s visit to America in 1831, and one year after his warning regarding the “tyranny of the majority,” was published in France. Democracy in America itself pointed to the danger of a democratic society where the majority conformed to a single set of ideals, essentially eliminating any chance of new ideas taking root.

Conformity the Opposite of Morality

Emerson also found the tastes of the majority to be short on character and long on insignificance. He admonishes his audience to do the work necessary to think for themselves rather than looking for guidance elsewhere,

“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, – that is genius.”
“Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side.”

Trust your ability to think for yourself.

He intensifies his statement, saying that conformity is in opposition to morality.

“Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.”

The mark of an individual is being able to stand alone. Emerson seeks to wake the sleeping giant of personal integrity.

He resents the idea that society’s approval or rejection should be the measure of how one decides to live their life,

“My life is for itself and not for a spectacle,” and,

“What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think.”

Conformity seeks acceptance by society; morality determines the prudent course of action, regardless of society’s opinion. Conformity places society as the ultimate truth, instead of seeking out truth itself. Emerson’s audience was bowing to custom and traditional ways of viewing the world instead of taking initiative and standing on their convictions.

He concludes the section with an oft-repeated; to take the wisdom found in your solitude with you in the midst of the crowd.

“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.”

Forty years before Rudyard Kipling would summarize this vital conviction of remaining true to yourself and your morals in the midst of trying times all around you in his stirring If— , Emerson has captured its essence in this reflection.

Consistency for Its Own Sake is an Enemy of Self-respect

Lastly, Emerson attacks consistency, or tradition, for it’s own sake. He challenges the notion of a person needing to be thought consistent in their opinions and admonitions, instead of speaking and acting on the truth as they discover it, and he claims that those who would be great are invariably misunderstood. He declares,

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

Leveling on attack on those who maintain that acting in line with what you previously stated is more important than acknowledging truth which may differ from your previous position, Emerson writes that in order to be truly self-reliant you must be willing to state the truth today and again tomorrow, even if they seem to contradict one another. You can only be self-reliant if you choose to discover and follow truth, regardless of the social consequences.

Rather than fretting whether one is thought inconsistent, we should aim to make our decisions from the same values and motivations. This produces a body of decisions or a history illustrating said motives. Actions done separately, but from the same motivation all compound to form a clear pattern. The same motives color and group the individual actions as a single driving force.

“To be great is to be misunderstood.”

As Emerson points out, when we habitually make decisions from a place of integrity and only from that perspective, all our actions form a line; a pattern; a recognizable tone. What’s more, we don’t have to worry about being consistent if we are making righteous decisions.

Then, in a provoking passage, Emerson details how actions and choices compound to effect change larger than the sum of its parts. We create a history of prudent decisions, and build a history of integrity.

“When private men shall act with original views, the lust er will be transferred from the actions of kings to those of gentlemen.”

Instead of looking to other people, rulers, customs, and cultures to tell you what is worthwhile, take some time to reflect on what you consider worthwhile. Emerson’s audience were looking to the old systems of aristocracy to define their society and politics, when the real answers to those questions are within the people themselves.

The ultimate form of self-reliance is not needing society or anyone else to tell you what is most important; it’s you deciding for yourself.

When society breaks down, what is your purpose? Where do you find meaning for your work? This morning I read Ecclesiastes, wherein the author, the wise King Solomon, is decrying everything as “grasping for the wind.” Riches, labor, owning vast households of servants and livestock – all is vanity. Solomon concludes that the one thing we can do while alive to mark our time as meaningful is finding joy in our work. This isn’t relegated to a day job of course, but is like a fragrance marking everything you bring effort to. Work toward something worthwhile which makes you happy. Society can’t tell you what that is. They are all busy chasing the wind. Do the work of introspection and live in line with it.

This is slow and difficult work. Most people don’t reflect on their principles, or stop to even verify they have principles. It takes effort. As Emerson reflects, most people simply conform because it’s the easier path. Exceptional people reflect and act in line with the person they want to become. As we take steps toward becoming that person, the opinions and pointless check-pointing against others loses its appeal. You don’t need to measure yourself against others, because you are simply taking one step at a time to being your ideal self.

Getting Specific

In the final section, Emerson identifies four specific areas directly impacted by this “revolution of self-reliance.” First, religion; he advocates for unity, for seeking the good of all, rather than separation, and dualism. Emerson sees prayers for personal or private gain as blasphemous to the unity of humanity and nature; he calls them “a disease of the will.” He takes a more Unitarian approach advocating that all action is in some way a prayer, in that it is action taken to bring about a desired effect. Prayer, then, should be spoken as the farmer goes to work, or as you go about your duties. Essentially, do the best in your control, and leave the rest to God, essentially.

Next, the common idea of travel as a means of self-improvement. You will be the same person in Spain as you are in America. If you are discontent and ignorant in the US, you’ll be discontent and ignorant while traveling. Emerson clarifies that he isn’t opposed to travel for art or study; he is attacking the idea that a mysterious, distant land possesses some truth you can not find in your current location. He is simply stating that truth is discovered by reflecting on timeless wisdom and not in endless travels.

Thirdly, and relatedly, Emerson touches on education. Our education systems, then and now, train for conformity and imitation. We are not taught to think up new ideas or conclusions, or test them in most school settings. Far from advocating a particular system of education, Emerson is showing the difference self-reliance will make in education. Once people begin reflecting on their principles and acting in line with them, education becomes less about rote information and more about supporting and building toward individual goals. “Insist on yourself; never imitate.” Trusting your unique talents and perspectives aid lifelong education and should be encouraged, not suffered through.

The fourth area identified is the spirit of society itself. Rather than looking to other cultures for objects and ideas to assimilate, the answer is to think and reflect on what would benefit all, Emerson maintains. He makes a prescient point that society doesn’t advance, but assimilates new information and technology. We trade physical strength for intellect and costly objects. Emerson describes the civilized man who,

“has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet….He has a fine Geneva watch, but he fails of the skill to tell the hour by the sun.”

In our advancing, we lose certain skills and abilities. Emerson saw this as a tragic loss, and an indication of society growing despite nature, instead of along with it. Today, we see skills like penmanship, sewing, and word working declining; whether these are worth maintaining is a matter of individual decision. We, just as Emerson did, can only determine the personal value of these skills through individual reflection. This self-reliance is the way we best accomplish our goals and walk in line with our principles ensuring we direct society and, technology in particular, instead of being dragged along by it.

Final Thoughts

Beyond the noise of having the latest piece of tech, or the right numbers in the bank, or maintaining the “right” position, what matters to you? This is the place to start when making decisions. The next step is being bold enough to maintain those actions, regardless of society’s opinion.

Do the work of discovering what is most valuable in your life and work to eliminate anything in defiance or contradictory to that aim.

I’ll close with Emerson’s fitting final line, “Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.”

insist on yourself never imitate essay

* All quotes taken from the 1984 edition of Penguin’s Classics’ Selected Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson, unless otherwise indicated.

You might also like

colorful feathers

Beauty, Truth, and Discipline: Emerson on Nature

insist on yourself never imitate essay

Hospitality and Leadership; How Homer’s “Odyssey” Continues to Speak Today

insist on yourself never imitate essay

On Simone Weil and Finding Things Out

Mackenzie Circle

To live your best life - live your best day.

Let's Be Social, Connect with Kathi Online:

insist on yourself never imitate essay

  • Book Kathi to Speak
  • Work with Kathi

Behind the quote: Ralph Waldo Emerson

Pin It

What is interesting is that some of his most successful writings did not begin in fact as essays, they started out as speeches he gave to audiences and later published. 

Another notable point is that he was an early “self-publisher”.  He delivered an address to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge in 1837 which ultimately became the work known as “The American Scholar”. 

At the urging of friends, he published it himself at his own expense. 

He also wrote his own musings in journals and it was his influence that resulted in Thoreau also starting to journal.  The Harvard University Press has published his journals in 16 volumes and some believe it contains some of his best work.  That’s not surprising to me given that the creative freedom of personal journals does often result in bursts of brilliance for most writers.

Another point worth mentioning is that he was also one of the early adopters of lecture “series” and he found that by approaching the market as a lecturer in this format gave him a much higher return financially.  At one point he was doing as many as 80 series a year and traveling a great deal.

When Walt Whitman first published his signature work Leaves of Grass , he sent a copy to Emerson for an opinion – perhaps an early “review”.  When he received a positive response, it stirred up market interest as well and a second edition was published.

What is the significance of all of this? It gives us insight into who he was and how he operated.  It helps put the quotes we have attributed to him within a context that makes them more crystallized.  It also speaks to the fact that success leaves clues.  Why do we still after nearly 200 years quote Emerson’s writings? Because he didn’t just write words.  He discussed ideas and presented new thoughts.  He delivered his message across different medias.  And he supported the work of others. His own private writings and observations of life in his world remain salient now.  One of my favorites of his thoughts is that “..The measure of a master is his success in bringing all men around to his opinion twenty years later.”

Our legacies are what live beyond us. In that respect, we are no different from Emerson. Although I have many fundamental philosophical differences with the man, in many areas his philosophies do resonate with me. Perhaps they will with you, too. 

Emerson on using new experiences as a way to put the past behind us :

Be not the slave of your own past. Plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep and swim far, so you shall come back with self-respect, with new power, with an advanced experience that shall explain and overlook the old.

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

Emerson on our individual uniqueness:

Insist on yourself; never imitate… Every great man is unique.

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone.

Emerson on character:

People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character.

What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.

And my own personal favorites:

This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.

Our chief want in life is somebody who shall make us do what we can.

The reward of a thing well done is to have done it.

And in closing, what would he say about this blog post? Perhaps he would say again: “…I hate quotations.  Tell me what you know.”  I love that.

Get My Top 10 Reading List!

insist on yourself never imitate essay

Adjusted Sails: What Does This Make Possible?

In her latest guide to growth, happiness, and success, Kathi Laughman challenges readers to ask what new possibilities are waiting to be explored in the wake of disruptive change.

insist on yourself never imitate essay

Kathi’s Recent Blog Posts

  • Seasons: They are about more than the weather
  • The Journey – Poetry, Music and Imagery
  • 5 Clues You May Need A Balance Check
  • For those times when you just want to quit!
  • The Myth of Indecision

Browse Blog Posts by Subject

Search our website, what others are saying:.

I had been thinking “around” all of the things….but you really helped my gain clarity. It was a huge breakthrough for me. Jennifer M.

Your Message

Privacy Overview

Cumming Study Guide

Cummings Study Guide

  • Henry 4 Part 1
  • Henry 4 Part 2
  • Measure for Measure
  • The Merchant of Venice
  • The Merry Wifes of Windsor
  • A Midsummers Night Dream
  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • Richard III
  • The Two Gentleman of Verona
  • Edgar Allan Poe
  • Annabel Lee
  • The Black Cat
  • A Dream Within a Dream
  • The Imp of the Perverse
  • The Pit and the Pendulum
  • The Tell-Tale Heart
  • The Masque of the Red Death
  • The Cask of Amontillado
  • The Fall of the House of Usher
  • Study Guide
  • Dover Beach
  • The Love Song
  • Rip Van Winkle
  • The Lottery
  • The Story of an Hour
  • Hills Like White Elephants
  • To His Coy Mistress
  • Literary Terms
  • Meter in Poetry

Study Guide Compiled by Michael J. Cummings .. © 2003 Revised and Enlarged in 2009

....... "Self-Reliance" is an essay that urges readers to trust their own intuition and common sense rather than automatically following popular opinion and conforming to the will of the majority. "Self-Reliance" was published in 1841 in a collection entitled Essays . In 1844, Emerson published a second collection, Essays: Second Series . Consequently, in 1847, he changed the title of the first collection to Essays: First Series .

Trust Your Own Inner Voice

....... Emerson urges his readers to retain the outspokenness of a small child who freely speaks his mind. A child he has not yet been corrupted by adults who tell him to do otherwise. He also urges readers to avoid envying or imitating others viewed as models of perfection; instead, he says, readers should take pride in their own individuality and never be afraid to express their own original ideas. In addition, he says, they should refuse to conform to the ways of the popular culture and its shallow ideals; rather they should live up to their own ideals, even if doing so reaps them criticism and denunciation.

Avoid Consistency as an End in Itself

....... Being consistent is not always wise. An idea or regimen to which you stubbornly cling can become outmoded tomorrow. 

Point of View

....... Emerson uses first-, second-, and third-person point of view. In the opening paragraph of the essay, he first writes in the first person, telling readers about an experience of his. Then, after only three sentences, he switches to second person, as if he is advising a listener sitting across the table from him. Later, in the paragraph, he switches to third person as he presents an exhortation about humankind in general. Following is the first part of the essay, in which Emerson uses all three points of view–first person in black, second person in red, and third person in blue:

....... Among the most notable characteristics of Emerson’s writing style are these: (1) thorough development of his thesis through examples, repetition, and reinforcement; (2) coinage of memorable statements of principle, or aphorisms; (3) frequent references (allusions) to historical and literary figures, such as Socrates, Galileo, Copernicus, Napoleon, Shakespeare, Franklin, Dante, and Scipio (ancient Roman general who defeated Hannibal), who embody qualities Emerson discusses; (4) frequent use of figurative language to make a point, such as “An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man" (metaphor) and “They who made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the imagination did so by sticking fast where they were, like an axis of the earth" (simile).

Promotion of American Creativity 

Because Emerson eschewed imitation (as noted under Theme ), he urged Americans to avoid mimicking art and ideas from abroad. He writes: 

....... Emerson believed every human being has inborn knowledge that enables him to recognize and understand moral truth without benefit of knowledge obtained through the physical senses. Using this inborn knowledge, a gift of God, an individual can make a moral decision without relying on information gained through everyday living, education, and experimentation. One may liken this inborn knowledge to conscience or intuition.  ....... Emerson and others who believed that this inborn knowledge served as a moral guiding force were known as transcendentalists — that is, they believed that this inner knowledge was a higher, transcendent form of knowledge than that which came through the senses. Because Emerson and his fellow transcendentalists trusted their own inner light as a moral guiding force, they were possessed of a fierce spirit of self-reliance. They were individualists; they liked to make decisions for themselves. If the government adopted a policy or a law that offended their consciences, they generally reacted strongly.  ....... Transcendentalism, as Emerson’s moral philosophy was called, did not originate with him or his fellow transcendentalists in New England but with the German philosopher Emanuel Kant. He used the German word for transcendental to refer to intuitive or innate knowledge — knowledge that is a priori rather than a posteriori .

....... Please be aware that the following summary condenses the content of “Self-Reliance." It retains first-person point of view to make the summary more readable and easier to understand. Quotations marks surround the exact wording of Emerson.

insist on yourself never imitate essay

Notable Quotations From "Self-Reliance"

  • Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.
  • Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.
  • What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think.
  • 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.
  • Travelling is a fool's paradise.
  • Insist on yourself; never imitate.
  • Society never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains on the other.
  • The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet.
  • An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.
  • Discontent is the want of self-reliance: it is infirmity of will.
  • Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.
  • Emerson strongly urges readers to trust their own insight and common sense when making a decision. Is this advice flawed in any way? Consider, for example, that many Americans who trusted in themselves in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries argued in favor of slavery and against allowing women to vote. Also, in ancient times, many people sincerely argued that the world was flat. 
  • Write an essay that defends or attacks a stand taken by Emerson in his essay. 
  • Write an essay that explains this statement from "Self-Reliance": A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. . . .
  • If a young man who followed Emerson's thinking enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps today, is it likely that he would become a good soldier who followed orders?

POPULAR PAGES

  • Free Study Guides for Shakespeare and Other Authors
  • Masque of the Red Death
  • My Kinsman, Major Molineux: a Study Guide
  • Civil Disobedience

privacy policy

insist on yourself never imitate essay

03 Nov 2001 Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson – 1841

Self-Reliance

by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson was a renowned philospher, lecturer, poet and writer. He lived in the time of the lyceum movement, in which popular lecturers travelled throughout the U.S., leading debates and discussions about the great topics of the day. Other lecturers of this period included Henry David Thoreau, Natheniel Hawthorne, Frederick Douglas and Susan B. Anthony.

In this famous and often quoted essay, first published in 1841, Emerson speaks of confident individualism. “A foolish consistency,” he says in its most famous passage, “is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

“Ne te quaesiveris extra.”

“Man is his own star; and the soul that can Render an honest and a perfect man, Commands all light, all influence, all fate; Nothing to him falls early or too late. Our acts our angels are, or good or ill, Our fatal shadows that walk by us still.” 

Epilogue to Beaumont and Fletcher’s Honest Man’s Fortune

Cast the bantling on the rocks, Suckle him with the she-wolf’s teat; Wintered with the hawk and fox, Power and speed be hands and feet.

I read the other day some verses written by an eminent painter which were original and not conventional. The soul always hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may. The sentiment they instil is of more value than any thought they may contain. To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost,—- and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment. Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is, that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men but what they thought. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried. Not for nothing one face, one character, one fact, makes much impression on him, and another none. This sculpture in the memory is not without preestablished harmony. The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might testify of that particular ray. We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents. It may be safely trusted as proportionate and of good issues, so it be faithfully imparted, but God will not have his work made manifest by cowards. A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope.

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.

What pretty oracles nature yields us on this text, in the face and behaviour of children, babes, and even brutes! That divided and rebel mind, that distrust of a sentiment because our arithmetic has computed the strength and means opposed to our purpose, these have not. Their mind being whole, their eye is as yet unconquered, and when we look in their faces, we are disconcerted. Infancy conforms to nobody: all conform to it, so that one babe commonly makes four or five out of the adults who prattle and play to it. So God has armed youth and puberty and manhood no less with its own piquancy and charm, and made it enviable and gracious and its claims not to be put by, if it will stand by itself. Do not think the youth has no force, because he cannot speak to you and me. Hark! in the next room his voice is sufficiently clear and emphatic. It seems he knows how to speak to his contemporaries. Bashful or bold, then, he will know how to make us seniors very unnecessary.

The nonchalance of boys who are sure of a dinner, and would disdain as much as a lord to do or say aught to conciliate one, is the healthy attitude of human nature. A boy is in the parlour what the pit is in the playhouse; independent, irresponsible, looking out from his corner on such people and facts as pass by, he tries and sentences them on their merits, in the swift, summary way of boys, as good, bad, interesting, silly, eloquent, troublesome. He cumbers himself never about consequences, about interests: he gives an independent, genuine verdict. You must court him: he does not court you. But the man is, as it were, clapped into jail by his consciousness. As soon as he has once acted or spoken with eclat, he is a committed person, watched by the sympathy or the hatred of hundreds, whose affections must now enter into his account. There is no Lethe for this. Ah, that he could pass again into his neutrality! Who can thus avoid all pledges, and having observed, observe again from the same unaffected, unbiased, unbribable, unaffrighted innocence, must always be formidable. He would utter opinions on all passing affairs, which being seen to be not private, but necessary, would sink like darts into the ear of men, and put them in fear.

These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world. Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world. I remember an answer which when quite young I was prompted to make to a valued adviser, who was wont to importune me with the dear old doctrines of the church. On my saying, What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within? my friend suggested, — “But these impulses may be from below, not from above.” I replied, “They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil’s child, I will live then from the Devil.” No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature. Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution, the only wrong what is against it. A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition, as if every thing were titular and ephemeral but he. I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions. Every decent and well-spoken individual affects and sways me more than is right. I ought to go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways. If malice and vanity wear the coat of philanthropy, shall that pass? If an angry bigot assumes this bountiful cause of Abolition, and comes to me with his last news from Barbadoes, why should I not say to him, `Go love thy infant; love thy wood-chopper: be good-natured and modest: have that grace; and never varnish your hard, uncharitable ambition with this incredible tenderness for black folk a thousand miles off. Thy love afar is spite at home.’ Rough and graceless would be such greeting, but truth is handsomer than the affectation of love. Your goodness must have some edge to it, — else it is none. The doctrine of hatred must be preached as the counteraction of the doctrine of love when that pules and whines. I shun father and mother and wife and brother, when my genius calls me. I would write on the lintels of the door-post,  Whim . I hope it is somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation. Expect me not to show cause why I seek or why I exclude company. Then, again, do not tell me, as a good man did to-day, of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they  my  poor? I tell thee, thou foolish philanthropist, that I grudge the dollar, the dime, the cent, I give to such men as do not belong to me and to whom I do not belong. There is a class of persons to whom by all spiritual affinity I am bought and sold; for them I will go to prison, if need be; but your miscellaneous popular charities; the education at college of fools; the building of meeting-houses to the vain end to which many now stand; alms to sots; and the thousandfold Relief Societies; — though I confess with shame I sometimes succumb and give the dollar, it is a wicked dollar which by and by I shall have the manhood to withhold.

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. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — `Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

I suppose no man can violate his nature. All the sallies of his will are rounded in by the law of his being, as the inequalities of Andes and Himmaleh are insignificant in the curve of the sphere. Nor does it matter how you gauge and try him. A character is like an acrostic or Alexandrian stanza; — read it forward, backward, or across, it still spells the same thing. In this pleasing, contrite wood-life which God allows me, let me record day by day my honest thought without prospect or retrospect, and, I cannot doubt, it will be found symmetrical, though I mean it not, and see it not. My book should smell of pines and resound with the hum of insects. The swallow over my window should interweave that thread or straw he carries in his bill into my web also. We pass for what we are. Character teaches above our wills. Men imagine that they communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment.

There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. For of one will, the actions will be harmonious, however unlike they seem. These varieties are lost sight of at a little distance, at a little height of thought. One tendency unites them all. The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks. See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency. 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. What makes the majesty of the heroes of the senate and the field, which so fills the imagination? The consciousness of a train of great days and victories behind. They shed an united light on the advancing actor. He is attended as by a visible escort of angels. That is it which throws thunder into Chatham’s voice, and dignity into Washington’s port, and America into Adams’s eye. Honor is venerable to us because it is no ephemeris. It is always ancient virtue. We worship it to-day because it is not of to-day. We love it and pay it homage, because it is not a trap for our love and homage, but is self-dependent, self-derived, and therefore of an old immaculate pedigree, even if shown in a young person.

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. A man Caesar is born, and for ages after we have a Roman Empire. Christ is born, and millions of minds so grow and cleave to his genius, that he is confounded with virtue and the possible of man. An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man; as, Monachism, of the Hermit Antony; the Reformation, of Luther; Quakerism, of Fox; Methodism, of Wesley; Abolition, of Clarkson. Scipio, Milton called “the height of Rome”; and all history resolves itself very easily into the biography of a few stout and earnest persons.

Let a man then know his worth, and keep things under his feet. Let him not peep or steal, or skulk up and down with the air of a charity-boy, a bastard, or an interloper, in the world which exists for him. But the man in the street, finding no worth in himself which corresponds to the force which built a tower or sculptured a marble god, feels poor when he looks on these. To him a palace, a statue, or a costly book have an alien and forbidding air, much like a gay equipage, and seem to say like that, `Who are you, Sir?’ Yet they all are his, suitors for his notice, petitioners to his faculties that they will come out and take possession. The picture waits for my verdict: it is not to command me, but I am to settle its claims to praise. That popular fable of the sot who was picked up dead drunk in the street, carried to the duke’s house, washed and dressed and laid in the duke’s bed, and, on his waking, treated with all obsequious ceremony like the duke, and assured that he had been insane, owes its popularity to the fact, that it symbolizes so well the state of man, who is in the world a sort of sot, but now and then wakes up, exercises his reason, and finds himself a true prince.

Our reading is mendicant and sycophantic. In history, our imagination plays us false. Kingdom and lordship, power and estate, are a gaudier vocabulary than private John and Edward in a small house and common day’s work; but the things of life are the same to both; the sum total of both is the same. Why all this deference to Alfred, and Scanderbeg, and Gustavus? Suppose they were virtuous; did they wear out virtue? As great a stake depends on your private act to-day, as followed their public and renowned steps. When private men shall act with original views, the lustre will be transferred from the actions of kings to those of gentlemen.

The world has been instructed by its kings, who have so magnetized the eyes of nations. It has been taught by this colossal symbol the mutual reverence that is due from man to man. The joyful loyalty with which men have everywhere suffered the king, the noble, or the great proprietor to walk among them by a law of his own, make his own scale of men and things, and reverse theirs, pay for benefits not with money but with honor, and represent the law in his person, was the hieroglyphic by which they obscurely signified their consciousness of their own right and comeliness, the right of every man.

The magnetism which all original action exerts is explained when we inquire the reason of self-trust. Who is the Trustee? What is the aboriginal Self, on which a universal reliance may be grounded? What is the nature and power of that science-baffling star, without parallax, without calculable elements, which shoots a ray of beauty even into trivial and impure actions, if the least mark of independence appear? The inquiry leads us to that source, at once the essence of genius, of virtue, and of life, which we call Spontaneity or Instinct. We denote this primary wisdom as Intuition, whilst all later teachings are tuitions. In that deep force, the last fact behind which analysis cannot go, all things find their common origin. For, the sense of being which in calm hours rises, we know not how, in the soul, is not diverse from things, from space, from light, from time, from man, but one with them, and proceeds obviously from the same source whence their life and being also proceed. We first share the life by which things exist, and afterwards see them as appearances in nature, and forget that we have shared their cause. Here is the fountain of action and of thought. Here are the lungs of that inspiration which giveth man wisdom, and which cannot be denied without impiety and atheism. We lie in the lap of immense intelligence, which makes us receivers of its truth and organs of its activity. When we discern justice, when we discern truth, we do nothing of ourselves, but allow a passage to its beams. If we ask whence this comes, if we seek to pry into the soul that causes, all philosophy is at fault. Its presence or its absence is all we can affirm. Every man discriminates between the voluntary acts of his mind, and his involuntary perceptions, and knows that to his involuntary perceptions a perfect faith is due. He may err in the expression of them, but he knows that these things are so, like day and night, not to be disputed. My wilful actions and acquisitions are but roving; — the idlest reverie, the faintest native emotion, command my curiosity and respect. Thoughtless people contradict as readily the statement of perceptions as of opinions, or rather much more readily; for, they do not distinguish between perception and notion. They fancy that I choose to see this or that thing. But perception is not whimsical, but fatal. If I see a trait, my children will see it after me, and in course of time, all mankind, — although it may chance that no one has seen it before me. For my perception of it is as much a fact as the sun.

The relations of the soul to the divine spirit are so pure, that it is profane to seek to interpose helps. It must be that when God speaketh he should communicate, not one thing, but all things; should fill the world with his voice; should scatter forth light, nature, time, souls, from the centre of the present thought; and new date and new create the whole. Whenever a mind is simple, and receives a divine wisdom, old things pass away, — means, teachers, texts, temples fall; it lives now, and absorbs past and future into the present hour. All things are made sacred by relation to it, — one as much as another. All things are dissolved to their centre by their cause, and, in the universal miracle, petty and particular miracles disappear. If, therefore, a man claims to know and speak of God, and carries you backward to the phraseology of some old mouldered nation in another country, in another world, believe him not. Is the acorn better than the oak which is its fulness and completion? Is the parent better than the child into whom he has cast his ripened being? Whence, then, this worship of the past? The centuries are conspirators against the sanity and authority of the soul. Time and space are but physiological colors which the eye makes, but the soul is light; where it is, is day; where it was, is night; and history is an impertinence and an injury, if it be any thing more than a cheerful apologue or parable of my being and becoming.

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.

This should be plain enough. Yet see what strong intellects dare not yet hear God himself, unless he speak the phraseology of I know not what David, or Jeremiah, or Paul. We shall not always set so great a price on a few texts, on a few lives. We are like children who repeat by rote the sentences of grandames and tutors, and, as they grow older, of the men of talents and character they chance to see, — painfully recollecting the exact words they spoke; afterwards, when they come into the point of view which those had who uttered these sayings, they understand them, and are willing to let the words go; for, at any time, they can use words as good when occasion comes. If we live truly, we shall see truly. It is as easy for the strong man to be strong, as it is for the weak to be weak. When we have new perception, we shall gladly disburden the memory of its hoarded treasures as old rubbish. When a man lives with God, his voice shall be as sweet as the murmur of the brook and the rustle of the corn.

And now at last the highest truth on this subject remains unsaid; probably cannot be said; for all that we say is the far-off remembering of the intuition. That thought, by what I can now nearest approach to say it, is this. When good is near you, when you have life in yourself, it is not by any known or accustomed way; you shall not discern the foot-prints of any other; you shall not see the face of man; you shall not hear any name;—- the way, the thought, the good, shall be wholly strange and new. It shall exclude example and experience. You take the way from man, not to man. All persons that ever existed are its forgotten ministers. Fear and hope are alike beneath it. There is somewhat low even in hope. In the hour of vision, there is nothing that can be called gratitude, nor properly joy. The soul raised over passion beholds identity and eternal causation, perceives the self-existence of Truth and Right, and calms itself with knowing that all things go well. Vast spaces of nature, the Atlantic Ocean, the South Sea, — long intervals of time, years, centuries, — are of no account. This which I think and feel underlay every former state of life and circumstances, as it does underlie my present, and what is called life, and what is called death.

Life only avails, not the having lived. Power ceases in the instant of repose; it resides in the moment of transition from a past to a new state, in the shooting of the gulf, in the darting to an aim. This one fact the world hates, that the soul  becomes ; for that for ever degrades the past, turns all riches to poverty, all reputation to a shame, confounds the saint with the rogue, shoves Jesus and Judas equally aside. Why, then, do we prate of self-reliance? Inasmuch as the soul is present, there will be power not confident but agent. To talk of reliance is a poor external way of speaking. Speak rather of that which relies, because it works and is. Who has more obedience than I masters me, though he should not raise his finger. Round him I must revolve by the gravitation of spirits. We fancy it rhetoric, when we speak of eminent virtue. We do not yet see that virtue is Height, and that a man or a company of men, plastic and permeable to principles, by the law of nature must overpower and ride all cities, nations, kings, rich men, poets, who are not.

This is the ultimate fact which we so quickly reach on this, as on every topic, the resolution of all into the ever-blessed ONE. Self-existence is the attribute of the Supreme Cause, and it constitutes the measure of good by the degree in which it enters into all lower forms. All things real are so by so much virtue as they contain. Commerce, husbandry, hunting, whaling, war, eloquence, personal weight, are somewhat, and engage my respect as examples of its presence and impure action. I see the same law working in nature for conservation and growth. Power is in nature the essential measure of right. Nature suffers nothing to remain in her kingdoms which cannot help itself. The genesis and maturation of a planet, its poise and orbit, the bended tree recovering itself from the strong wind, the vital resources of every animal and vegetable, are demonstrations of the self-sufficing, and therefore self-relying soul.

Thus all concentrates: let us not rove; let us sit at home with the cause. Let us stun and astonish the intruding rabble of men and books and institutions, by a simple declaration of the divine fact. Bid the invaders take the shoes from off their feet, for God is here within. Let our simplicity judge them, and our docility to our own law demonstrate the poverty of nature and fortune beside our native riches.

But now we are a mob. Man does not stand in awe of man, nor is his genius admonished to stay at home, to put itself in communication with the internal ocean, but it goes abroad to beg a cup of water of the urns of other men. We must go alone. I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching. How far off, how cool, how chaste the persons look, begirt each one with a precinct or sanctuary! So let us always sit. Why should we assume the faults of our friend, or wife, or father, or child, because they sit around our hearth, or are said to have the same blood? All men have my blood, and I have all men’s. Not for that will I adopt their petulance or folly, even to the extent of being ashamed of it. But your isolation must not be mechanical, but spiritual, that is, must be elevation. At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door, and say, — `Come out unto us.’ But keep thy state; come not into their confusion. The power men possess to annoy me, I give them by a weak curiosity. No man can come near me but through my act. “What we love that we have, but by desire we bereave ourselves of the love.”

If we cannot at once rise to the sanctities of obedience and faith, let us at least resist our temptations; let us enter into the state of war, and wake Thor and Woden, courage and constancy, in our Saxon breasts. This is to be done in our smooth times by speaking the truth. Check this lying hospitality and lying affection. Live no longer to the expectation of these deceived and deceiving people with whom we converse. Say to them, O father, O mother, O wife, O brother, O friend, I have lived with you after appearances hitherto. Henceforward I am the truth’s. Be it known unto you that henceforward I obey no law less than the eternal law. I will have no covenants but proximities. I shall endeavour to nourish my parents, to support my family, to be the chaste husband of one wife, — but these relations I must fill after a new and unprecedented way. I appeal from your customs. I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be the happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me, and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly, but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men’s, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth. Does this sound harsh to-day? You will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and, if we follow the truth, it will bring us out safe at last. — But so you may give these friends pain. Yes, but I cannot sell my liberty and my power, to save their sensibility. Besides, all persons have their moments of reason, when they look out into the region of absolute truth; then will they justify me, and do the same thing.

The populace think that your rejection of popular standards is a rejection of all standard, and mere antinomianism; and the bold sensualist will use the name of philosophy to gild his crimes. But the law of consciousness abides. There are two confessionals, in one or the other of which we must be shriven. You may fulfil your round of duties by clearing yourself in the  direct , or in the  reflex  way. Consider whether you have satisfied your relations to father, mother, cousin, neighbour, town, cat, and dog; whether any of these can upbraid you. But I may also neglect this reflex standard, and absolve me to myself. I have my own stern claims and perfect circle. It denies the name of duty to many offices that are called duties. But if I can discharge its debts, it enables me to dispense with the popular code. If any one imagines that this law is lax, let him keep its commandment one day.

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 he 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!

If any man consider the present aspects of what is called by distinction  society , he will see the need of these ethics. The sinew and heart of man seem to be drawn out, and we are become timorous, desponding whimperers. We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other. Our age yields no great and perfect persons. We want men and women who shall renovate life and our social state, but we see that most natures are insolvent, cannot satisfy their own wants, have an ambition out of all proportion to their practical force, and do lean and beg day and night continually. Our housekeeping is mendicant, our arts, our occupations, our marriages, our religion, we have not chosen, but society has chosen for us. We are parlour soldiers. We shun the rugged battle of fate, where strength is born.

If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is  ruined . If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who  teams it ,  farms it ,  peddles , keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast with his days, and feels no shame in not `studying a profession,’ for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances. Let a Stoic open the resources of man, and tell men they are not leaning willows, but can and must detach themselves; that with the exercise of self-trust, new powers shall appear; that a man is the word made flesh, born to shed healing to the nations, that he should be ashamed of our compassion, and that the moment he acts from himself, tossing the laws, the books, idolatries, and customs out of the window, we pity him no more, but thank and revere him, — and that teacher shall restore the life of man to splendor, and make his name dear to all history.

It is easy to see that a greater self-reliance must work a revolution in all the offices and relations of men; in their religion; in their education; in their pursuits; their modes of living; their association; in their property; in their speculative views.

1. In what prayers do men allow themselves! That which they call a holy office is not so much as brave and manly. Prayer looks abroad and asks for some foreign addition to come through some foreign virtue, and loses itself in endless mazes of natural and supernatural, and mediatorial and miraculous. Prayer that craves a particular commodity, — any thing less than all good, — is vicious. Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view. It is the soliloquy of a beholding and jubilant soul. It is the spirit of God pronouncing his works good. But prayer as a means to effect a private end is meanness and theft. It supposes dualism and not unity in nature and consciousness. As soon as the man is at one with God, he will not beg. He will then see prayer in all action. The prayer of the farmer kneeling in his field to weed it, the prayer of the rower kneeling with the stroke of his oar, are true prayers heard throughout nature, though for cheap ends. Caratach, in Fletcher’s Bonduca, when admonished to inquire the mind of the god Audate, replies, —

“His hidden meaning lies in our endeavours;

Our valors are our best gods.”

Another sort of false prayers are our regrets. Discontent is the want of self-reliance: it is infirmity of will. Regret calamities, if you can thereby help the sufferer; if not, attend your own work, and already the evil begins to be repaired. Our sympathy is just as base. We come to them who weep foolishly, and sit down and cry for company, instead of imparting to them truth and health in rough electric shocks, putting them once more in communication with their own reason. The secret of fortune is joy in our hands. Welcome evermore to gods and men is the self-helping man. For him all doors are flung wide: him all tongues greet, all honors crown, all eyes follow with desire. Our love goes out to him and embraces him, because he did not need it. We solicitously and apologetically caress and celebrate him, because he held on his way and scorned our disapprobation. The gods love him because men hated him. “To the persevering mortal,” said Zoroaster, “the blessed Immortals are swift.”

As men’s prayers are a disease of the will, so are their creeds a disease of the intellect. They say with those foolish Israelites, `Let not God speak to us, lest we die. Speak thou, speak any man with us, and we will obey.’ Everywhere I am hindered of meeting God in my brother, because he has shut his own temple doors, and recites fables merely of his brother’s, or his brother’s brother’s God. Every new mind is a new classification. If it prove a mind of uncommon activity and power, a Locke, a Lavoisier, a Hutton, a Bentham, a Fourier, it imposes its classification on other men, and lo! a new system. In proportion to the depth of the thought, and so to the number of the objects it touches and brings within reach of the pupil, is his complacency. But chiefly is this apparent in creeds and churches, which are also classifications of some powerful mind acting on the elemental thought of duty, and man’s relation to the Highest. Such is Calvinism, Quakerism, Swedenborgism. The pupil takes the same delight in subordinating every thing to the new terminology, as a girl who has just learned botany in seeing a new earth and new seasons thereby. It will happen for a time, that the pupil will find his intellectual power has grown by the study of his master’s mind. But in all unbalanced minds, the classification is idolized, passes for the end, and not for a speedily exhaustible means, so that the walls of the system blend to their eye in the remote horizon with the walls of the universe; the luminaries of heaven seem to them hung on the arch their master built. They cannot imagine how you aliens have any right to see, — how you can see; `It must be somehow that you stole the light from us.’ They do not yet perceive, that light, unsystematic, indomitable, will break into any cabin, even into theirs. Let them chirp awhile and call it their own. If they are honest and do well, presently their neat new pinfold will be too strait and low, will crack, will lean, will rot and vanish, and the immortal light, all young and joyful, million-orbed, million-colored, will beam over the universe as on the first morning.

2. It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Travelling, whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for all educated Americans. They who made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the imagination did so by sticking fast where they were, like an axis of the earth. In manly hours, we feel that duty is our place. The soul is no traveller; the wise man stays at home, and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him from his house, or into foreign lands, he is at home still, and shall make men sensible by the expression of his countenance, that he goes the missionary of wisdom and virtue, and visits cities and men like a sovereign, and not like an interloper or a valet.

I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe, for the purposes of art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man is first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater than he knows. He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things. In Thebes, in Palmyra, his will and mind have become old and dilapidated as they. He carries ruins to ruins.

Travelling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.

3. But the rage of travelling is a symptom of a deeper unsoundness affecting the whole intellectual action. The intellect is vagabond, and our system of education fosters restlessness. Our minds travel when our bodies are forced to stay at home. We imitate; and what is imitation but the travelling of the mind? Our houses are built with foreign taste; our shelves are garnished with foreign ornaments; our opinions, our tastes, our faculties, lean, and follow the Past and the Distant. The soul created the arts wherever they have flourished. It was in his own mind that the artist sought his model. It was an application of his own thought to the thing to be done and the conditions to be observed. And why need we copy the Doric or the Gothic model? Beauty, convenience, grandeur of thought, and quaint expression are as near to us as to any, and if the American artist will study with hope and love the precise thing to be done by him, considering the climate, the soil, the length of the day, the wants of the people, the habit and form of the government, he will create a house in which all these will find themselves fitted, and taste and sentiment will be satisfied also.

Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. No man yet knows what it is, nor can, till that person has exhibited it. Where is the master who could have taught Shakspeare? Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton? Every great man is a unique. The Scipionism of Scipio is precisely that part he could not borrow. Shakspeare will never be made by the study of Shakspeare. Do that which is assigned you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much. There is at this moment for you an utterance brave and grand as that of the colossal chisel of Phidias, or trowel of the Egyptians, or the pen of Moses, or Dante, but different from all these. Not possibly will the soul all rich, all eloquent, with thousand-cloven tongue, deign to repeat itself; but if you can hear what these patriarchs say, surely you can reply to them in the same pitch of voice; for the ear and the tongue are two organs of one nature. Abide in the simple and noble regions of thy life, obey thy heart, and thou shalt reproduce the Foreworld again.

4. As our Religion, our Education, our Art look abroad, so does our spirit of society. All men plume themselves on the improvement of society, and no man improves.

Society never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains on the other. It undergoes continual changes; it is barbarous, it is civilized, it is christianized, it is rich, it is scientific; but this change is not amelioration. For every thing that is given, something is taken. Society acquires new arts, and loses old instincts. What a contrast between the well-clad, reading, writing, thinking American, with a watch, a pencil, and a bill of exchange in his pocket, and the naked New Zealander, whose property is a club, a spear, a mat, and an undivided twentieth of a shed to sleep under! But compare the health of the two men, and you shall see that the white man has lost his aboriginal strength. If the traveller tell us truly, strike the savage with a broad axe, and in a day or two the flesh shall unite and heal as if you struck the blow into soft pitch, and the same blow shall send the white to his grave.

The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. He is supported on crutches, but lacks so much support of muscle. He has a fine Geneva watch, but he fails of the skill to tell the hour by the sun. A Greenwich nautical almanac he has, and so being sure of the information when he wants it, the man in the street does not know a star in the sky. The solstice he does not observe; the equinox he knows as little; and the whole bright calendar of the year is without a dial in his mind. His note-books impair his memory; his libraries overload his wit; the insurance-office increases the number of accidents; and it may be a question whether machinery does not encumber; whether we have not lost by refinement some energy, by a Christianity entrenched in establishments and forms, some vigor of wild virtue. For every Stoic was a Stoic; but in Christendom where is the Christian?

There is no more deviation in the moral standard than in the standard of height or bulk. No greater men are now than ever were. A singular equality may be observed between the great men of the first and of the last ages; nor can all the science, art, religion, and philosophy of the nineteenth century avail to educate greater men than Plutarch’s heroes, three or four and twenty centuries ago. Not in time is the race progressive. Phocion, Socrates, Anaxagoras, Diogenes, are great men, but they leave no class. He who is really of their class will not be called by their name, but will be his own man, and, in his turn, the founder of a sect. The arts and inventions of each period are only its costume, and do not invigorate men. The harm of the improved machinery may compensate its good. Hudson and Behring accomplished so much in their fishing-boats, as to astonish Parry and Franklin, whose equipment exhausted the resources of science and art. Galileo, with an opera-glass, discovered a more splendid series of celestial phenomena than any one since. Columbus found the New World in an undecked boat. It is curious to see the periodical disuse and perishing of means and machinery, which were introduced with loud laudation a few years or centuries before. The great genius returns to essential man. We reckoned the improvements of the art of war among the triumphs of science, and yet Napoleon conquered Europe by the bivouac, which consisted of falling back on naked valor, and disencumbering it of all aids. The Emperor held it impossible to make a perfect army, says Las Casas, “without abolishing our arms, magazines, commissaries, and carriages, until, in imitation of the Roman custom, the soldier should receive his supply of corn, grind it in his hand-mill, and bake his bread himself.”

Society is a wave. The wave moves onward, but the water of which it is composed does not. The same particle does not rise from the valley to the ridge. Its unity is only phenomenal. The persons who make up a nation to-day, next year die, and their experience with them.

And so the reliance on Property, including the reliance on governments which protect it, is the want of self-reliance. Men have looked away from themselves and at things so long, that they have come to esteem the religious, learned, and civil institutions as guards of property, and they deprecate assaults on these, because they feel them to be assaults on property. They measure their esteem of each other by what each has, and not by what each is. But a cultivated man becomes ashamed of his property, out of new respect for his nature. Especially he hates what he has, if he see that it is accidental, — came to him by inheritance, or gift, or crime; then he feels that it is not having; it does not belong to him, has no root in him, and merely lies there, because no revolution or no robber takes it away. But that which a man is does always by necessity acquire, and what the man acquires is living property, which does not wait the beck of rulers, or mobs, or revolutions, or fire, or storm, or bankruptcies, but perpetually renews itself wherever the man breathes. “Thy lot or portion of life,” said the Caliph Ali, “is seeking after thee; therefore be at rest from seeking after it.” Our dependence on these foreign goods leads us to our slavish respect for numbers. The political parties meet in numerous conventions; the greater the concourse, and with each new uproar of announcement, The delegation from Essex! The Democrats from New Hampshire! The Whigs of Maine! the young patriot feels himself stronger than before by a new thousand of eyes and arms. In like manner the reformers summon conventions, and vote and resolve in multitude. Not so, O friends! will the God deign to enter and inhabit you, but by a method precisely the reverse. It is only as a man puts off all foreign support, and stands alone, that I see him to be strong and to prevail. He is weaker by every recruit to his banner. Is not a man better than a town? Ask nothing of men, and in the endless mutation, thou only firm column must presently appear the upholder of all that surrounds thee. He who knows that power is inborn, that he is weak because he has looked for good out of him and elsewhere, and so perceiving, throws himself unhesitatingly on his thought, instantly rights himself, stands in the erect position, commands his limbs, works miracles; just as a man who stands on his feet is stronger than a man who stands on his head.

So use all that is called Fortune. Most men gamble with her, and gain all, and lose all, as her wheel rolls. But do thou leave as unlawful these winnings, and deal with Cause and Effect, the chancellors of God. In the Will work and acquire, and thou hast chained the wheel of Chance, and shalt sit hereafter out of fear from her rotations. A political victory, a rise of rents, the recovery of your sick, or the return of your absent friend, or some other favorable event, raises your spirits, and you think good days are preparing for you. Do not believe it. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century. Learn More About Us Subscribe to Our Updates

insist on yourself never imitate essay

Neil Strauss

  • Work With Neil

Neil Strauss On Emerson’s Self Reliance

Neil Strauss September 10, 2012 Neil

Self Reliance, it was one of the themes of Emergency. And it is a common topic of what it means to be a man.

Many would say it’s become a foreign topic to the modern man. As we become more and more reliant on the technological wonders around us we loose our grasp of the concept …Yet there are few topics so quintessential to men, modern or not.

We could use a little more…

So pickup an axe, leave your iPhone/Blackberry behind, and run off to the woods. But before you do, enjoy Nathaniel’s summary…

CROWDSOURCED READING PROJECT #22

Self Reliance

SUMMARIZED BY Nathaniel Kelley

insist on yourself never imitate essay

Being Yourself

“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men—that is genius.” You have to speak what you feel, no matter how large the opposition may seem. Geniuses are the ones who are unafraid to voice our own rejected thoughts.

“I do not wish to expiate, but to live. My life is for itself and not for a spectacle.” Do not need the reassurance of others to be yourself. You have to do what matters to you, regardless of other peoples’ wants. As hard as a rule as that may be to follow, you must stick true to it, even when it seems that others know you better than yourself.

“Insist on yourself; never imitate.” Being yourself is the gift you can give to the world. “Every great man is unique,” and, if you conform to the rest of the world, you cannot achieve that greatness. You need to be an outlier.

In youth, we aren’t afraid to push the limits, to fail, to search for new paths. In adulthood, we lose that drive, constantly monitoring ourselves to be accepted by others. As we age, we conform more to the democracy that society necessitates; self-reliance combats that. You have to return to that youthful mindset.

Focusing on the Now

We cannot let the past dictate the present when it comes to ourselves, our cultures, or our religions. “History is an impertinence and an injury if it be any thing more than a cheerful apologue or parable of my being and becoming.” We have to explore the present moment for ourselves, not just accepting what the great minds of the past figured out about their own moments.

“I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe for purposes or art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man is first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater than he knows.” If you do not realize that your grass is just as green as everyone else’s, everywhere you go, you grass will always seem less green. You have to rid yourself of that brown-grass mindset. Maybe you are the person you envy, you just can’t see it yet.

Emerson then says one of his most famous quotatations: “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.”

When you are present in the moment, there is not life, there is not death. There is no joy or hope or sorrow. There exists a paradox where everything becomes infinite through that singular focus; time does not matter if you are not contemplating its duration.

Nature, incapable of escaping the now, is self-reliant, ever healing, ever growing. It does not suffer. It just experiences and then reacts accordingly.

Being an Individual

A man needs to be a nonconformist, not just accepting the rules and laws prescribed for him but questioning what about those regulations makes them good. “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.” Your understanding of good needs to be honest and edgy, or else it falls into the middling ground that is complacency.

With each undying allegiance you make to a group or tribe, you are tying up your freedom of thought. Each relationship intangibly affects the others; one allegiance taints the rest of your mentality. It is about constant evolution. If you are letting yourself be absorbed in who you are now becoming, and not who you were, you have the greatest room to grow.

You need to untether yourself from people in your life. Be grateful for what they have given you thus far, and tell them as much, but you need to walk alone to be self-reliant. This way you can truly be yourself without having to worry about the judgments and expectations of others.

The best men are those who stand in the middle of the crowd but still maintain the freedom that their solitude brings, not those who turn to isolation.

Knowing Your Worth

Each man should know his worth, his capacity to transcend his current conditions and become something greater. Emerson references the fable where the drunkard was picked up in the street, taken to the duke’s house, put in his bed, and told that he was insane–that he was really the duke. “No and then [a man] wake up, exercises his reason and finds himself a true prince.” Your mindset determines your reality. Don’t forget you have that capacity: “But perception is not whimsical, but fatal. If I see a trait, my children will see it after me, and in course of time all mankind—although it may chance that no one has seen it before me. For my perception of it is much a fact as the sun.”

Emerson then turns to the topic of prayer. “Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view…As soon as the man is at one with God, he will not beg. He will then see prayer in all action.” The statement, taken away from its Christian context, is very Buddhist. Through meditation and reflection inwards, one can start to see the larger picture.

“Society never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains on the other.” Society makes us reliant on other things: cars, computers, watches. If they were to disappear, how self-sustaining would each of us be able to be? (Emergency anyone?) “The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet.”

Other thoughts

We live in a world of constant technological stimulation and input. We need to be able to take time to shut off and reflect inwards. Without doing so, we leave ourselves incomplete and uncared for. A lot of people go into relationships seeking that completion, when really it should be about wanting to share your whole self with someone else’s whole self.

“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.” It is only with an understanding of yourself and how you see the world that you can find that both your best self and happiness.

Emerson also wrote a poem called “Self-Reliance” which I want to end with:

Henceforth, please God, forever I forego The yoke of men’s opinions. I will be Light-hearted as a bird, and live with God. I find him in the bottom of my heart, I hear continually his voice therein. * * * The little needle always knows the North, The little bird remembereth his note, And this wise Seer within me never errs. I never taught it what it teaches me; I only follow, when I act aright. October 9, 1832.

And when I am entombed in my place, Be it remembered of a single man, He never, though he dearly loved his race, For fear of human eyes swerved from his plan.

Oh what is Heaven but the fellowship Of minds that each can stand against the world By its own meek and incorruptible will?

The days pass over me And I am still the same; The aroma of my life is gone With the flower with which it came. 1833.

Self-Reliance — by Ralph Waldo Emerson

JOIN NEIL'S INNER CIRCLE

Enjoy weekly wisdom from Neil, along with:

  • Exclusive, members-only content
  • Access to eBooks before anyone else
  • Invites to telehangs with Neil himself

Join Neil's Inner Circle –Exclusive, Members-only EBOOKS & EVENTS

The Walden Woods Project

Fifty Quotations by Ralph Waldo Emerson

insist on yourself never imitate essay

  • The reward of a thing well done, is to have done it. — “New England Reformers”
  • A little integrity is better than any career. — “Behavior”
  • Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. — “Self-Reliance”
  • What is the hardest task in the world? To think. — “Intellect”
  • I would study, I would know, I would admire forever. — “The Divinity School Address”
  • Good criticism is very rare and always precious. — “Conduct”
  • We are by nature observers, and thereby learners. This is our permanent state. — “Love”
  • Fear always springs from ignorance. — “The American Scholar”
  • Before we acquire great power we must acquire wisdom to use it well. — “Demonology”
  • Love the day. — “Behavior”
  • To think is to act. — “Spiritual Laws”
  • A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little  minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. — “Self-Reliance”
  • We are always getting ready to live, but never living. — Journal, 12 April 1834
  • Life wastes itself while we are preparing to live. — “Prudence”
  • Life only avails, not the having lived. — “Self-Reliance”
  • Whatever limits us, we call Fate. — “Fate”
  • Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. —  Nature
  • Every ship is a romantic object, except that we sail in. — “Experience”
  • Dare to love God without mediator or veil. — “The Divinity School Address”
  • In skating over thin ice, our safety is on our speed. — “Prudence”
  • To be great is to be misunderstood. — “Self-Reliance”
  • Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. — “Circles”
  • Hitch your wagon to a star. —”Civilization”
  • Nature is the symbol of the spirit. —  Nature
  • There are no days in life so memorable as those which vibrated to some stroke of the imagination. — “Beauty”
  • If a man owns land, the land owns him. — “Wealth”
  • The only way to have a friend is to be one. — “Friendship”
  • All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. — Journal, November 1842
  • Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles. — “Self-Reliance”
  • The civility of no race can be perfect whilst another race is degraded. — “Emancipation in the British West Indies”
  • Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not. — “Circles”
  • There are three wants which can never be satisfied: that of the rich, who want something more; that of the sick, who want something different; and that of the traveler, who says, “Anywhere but here.” — “Considerations by the Way”
  • It is better to be alone than in bad company. — “The Transcendentalist”
  • I had better never see a book, than to be warped by its attraction clean out of my own orbit, and made a satellite instead of a system. — “The American Scholar”
  • The imitator dooms himself to hopeless mediocrity. — “The Divinity School Address”
  • Every revolution was first a thought in one man’s mind and when the same thought occurs in another man, it is the key to that era. — “History”
  • Insist on yourself; never imitate. — “Self-Reliance”
  • The three practical rules, then which I have to offer, are,—1. Never read any book that is not a year old. 2. Never read any but famed books. 3.  Never read any but what you like. — “Books”
  • The essence of friendship is entireness, a total magnanimity and truth. — “Friendship”
  • I cannot go to the houses of my nearest relatives, because I do not wish to be alone. Society exists by chemical affinity, and not otherwise. — “Society and Solitude”
  • I respect cats, they seem to have so much else in their heads besides their mess. — Journal, August-September 1843
  • For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure. — “Self-Reliance”
  • The Religion that is afraid of science dishonors God … — Journal, March 1831
  • The one thing is the world, of value, is the active soul. — “The American Scholar”
  • Where there is no vision, the people perish. — “The Method of Nature”
  • Health, south wind, books, old trees, a boat, a friend.  — Journal, March 1847
  • The foregoing generation beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should we  not also enjoy an original relation to the universe? —  Nature
  • We will walk on our own feet; we will work with our own hands; we will speak our own minds. — “The American Scholar”
  • I hate quotation. Tell me what you know. — Journal, May 1849
  • Submissions

“Insist on yourself; never imitate”

I find it disconcerting to realize that it has been more than half a century since I first read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance.” At least I know I’ve had plenty of time to think it over. I’ve read it a number of times since then, of course, but that first encounter has stayed in my mind with extraordinary vividness. It took place in February 1957. I was 15, a sophomore in high school. But I had stayed home from school that day because of a bad cold — for some reason colds affected me worse when I was young than later on.

The day was very clear and very cold. The bedroom where I sat reading was filled with dazzling winter sunlight. I don’t remember why I decided to read “Self-Reliance.” It was in an anthology of classic American literature that we had lying around the house. I knew that Emerson was supposed to be an important writer, so maybe I just decided to see if he lived up to his reputation.

He sure did for me. “Self-Reliance” hit me like a personal declaration of independence. “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.” “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds….” “To be great is to be misunderstood.” What bookish adolescent wouldn’t thrill to such words?

Conformism was much talked about at the time. Sloan Wilson’s novel The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit — which had to do with conformity as exemplified by corporate yes men — had come out two years earlier and its screen adaptation hit theaters the year before. Maybe that’s what made Emerson’s essay seem so up-to-date.

At any rate, it was not those famous quotes from “Self-Reliance” that grabbed me so much as this one:  “Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him.”

What I liked about this — what I still like about it — is the idea that there is something each of us can do that no one else is qualified to, and that authenticity consists in finding out what that is and doing it as best one can. I do not mean to suggest that I was able to put this to myself in this way at that time. But I do remember thinking that day that I would discover whatever it was I was best suited for only by looking within, not by looking around.

I also remember realizing that this might not be anything especially great. I already knew I was no potential Michelangelo or Beethoven or Tolstoy. What Emerson helped me to understand was that it didn’t matter. For what it was worth, Michelangelo, Beethoven, and Tolstoy were no Frank Wilsons, either. What Emerson got across to me is that aspiring to be anything other than whoever it is you happen to be is an excercise in futility that is bound to make you miserable.

Something else in “Self-Reliance” grabbed me as well: “If I know your sect I anticipate your argument.” Ever been around people who all read the same papers and magazines, watch the same TV news shows, and — surprise, surprise — think the same thoughts? Their smug and smiling countenances are the spitting image of the conformism Emerson so deplored, and you can wipe the smiles off their faces very easily by mildly suggesting a contrary viewpoint. Try it sometime. You might be surprised — even enlightened — at the result.

The two most important years of my life, I have come to think, were when I was 4 and when I was 15. When I was 4 I learned to tell time and also, it seems to me, found my bearings in the world. Things fell into perspective. I developed a sense of direction.

When I was 15, thanks in no small part to Emerson, I pretty much decided how I was going to act in the world. Emerson sowed the seeds of individualism in my soul, so that when, not that many years later, I encountered the writings of Albert Jay Nock, I immediately recognized a kindred spirit.

“The only thing that the psychically human being can do to improve society,” Nock wrote, “is to present society with one improved unit. In a word, ages of experience testify that the only way society can be improved is by the individualistic method … the method of each one doing his very best to improve one.”

There is one downside to this: If you don’t manage to make any improvement, you have no one to blame but yourself.

That’s What He Said is published on Tuesdays.

  • Latest Posts

' src=

Frank Wilson

Latest posts by frank wilson ( posts ).

  • An illusion of precision - September 9, 2015
  • Watching the passing scene - October 28, 2013
  • To see like a child - June 26, 2013
  • Riffing and digressions - January 21, 2013
  • Life is a parenthesis between one darkness and another - September 13, 2012

Tags: books & writing , that's what he said, by Frank Wilson // 3 Comments »

3 Responses to ““Insist on yourself; never imitate””

Frank , I just read Self Reliance for the first time and every page, every paragraph was a love slap of the most challenging variety. I’m still reeling, inpsired, intrigued, black and blue. What a love of humanity the minister had, what deep respect for the unique treasure of each human mind, and what a call he made in asking for each of us to properly cultivate our particular connection to the divine. Had he lived a few centuries earlier, he might have died a heretics death.

But self reliance doesn’t exclude inspiration, as Emerson himself demonstrated in his admiration of Hafiz : ‘He fears nothing. He sees too far; he sees throughout; such is the only man I wish to see and be.’ I’m now reading Marcus Aurelius, an interesting lens to study Emerson through, especially in terms of what he means when he talks about Nature. Anyway, thanks beating the self reliance drum, it’s a strong medicine for what ails us.

Also, thanks for mentioning Albert Jay Nock, I’ve never heard of him, but will look him up.

Great piece, Frank. It goes a long way towards explaining why I do so like Emerson very much. Also, as you probably know, you’ve managed to include a reference to Lucy Maud Montgomery here? So, it’s truly cross-culturally gorgeous. She coined “kindred spirits,” after all, IIRC, Dear KS :). — http://www.booksinq.blogspot.com

Discussion Area - Leave a Comment

Name (required)

Mail (will not be published) (required)

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Recent Posts

  • An Eagle’s farewell: Nothing artificial about it
  • Friends of all ages
  • AI overlord inevitability?: My fantasy team says no
  • Three-volley salute–and fathers and sons
  • Trains do not keep a rollin’
  • Why am I a teacher?
  • The perils of poker
  • One, two, three strikes… you’re IN
  • First days of school, K to 17
  • Empty nest? We barely got to snap a twig
  • A Brush with Techno-Corporate-Bureaucracy
  • I’m getting ChatGPT’ed left and right–or at least I should be
  • Girls’ and women’s wrestling on the rise
  • ChatGPT the end of writting?Nah.Probly not
  • Post holiday tale: Quest for the Bagel Slicer
  • The rating is the hardest part
  • Successful Casino Night helps PHSFEE reach $100,000 goal
  • A “dad outfit” deserves a “dad question”
  • Digging for the past

insist on yourself never imitate essay

Join us on FB

  • Entries feed
  • Comments feed
  • WordPress.org

Copyright © 2021 When Falls the Coliseum. All rights reserved by When Falls the Coliseum. Graphics designed by Turner Design. Theme design by Anthony Baggett .

insist on yourself never imitate essay

Reading University Library and Pocket University

insist on yourself never imitate essay

'Insist on yourself; never imitate': 25 May 2022

Ralph waldo emerson sees our hesitance and eggs us on ....

insist on yourself never imitate essay

I think it’s possible to hold something lightly but with great respect. Like a fragile egg, multi-colored or ugly, but always possible to crack and squeeze forth something wonderful or terrible or ugly or marvelous and middlin’.

You could hold religion that way, or your political beliefs. Your family, or your love of family. Your virtue, or your yearning…

Keep reading with a 7-day free trial

Subscribe to Reading University Library and Pocket University to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

does Emerson believe in a new government?

insist on yourself never imitate essay

I am not one to speculate on what Emerson believed beyond what he wrote, but I do know this. Emerson knew, that if the collective population took heed to his writings, became self-aware, let go of internal insecurity, had compassion for themselves and others, held the ideals of a community over and above their own needs, there would not be a “need” for a new government, as it would evolve naturally based on the collective beliefs of the communities nation-wide. Emerson’s words are more valid today than they were during his time in my opinion.

insist on yourself never imitate essay

Hi , it’s a very interesting thought and i could use this idea for an essay i am writing. Would you mind putting some quotes to back this up? Thank you

insist on yourself never imitate essay

I leave an appropriate quote by ERNEST HEMMINGWAY … “If man is truly free in the isolated moment, then the importance of what he does or does not do is staggering. He has, in effect, elected to change the universe all by himself and create his own universe.” My thoughts go out to Julian Assague. May God be with him in his current trial.

insist on yourself never imitate essay

I would embrace Emerson’s instruction, “Insist on yourself; never imitate;” and leave it there For me, an attempt “to be as different from everyone else as much as you can” would be to put your energy again into someone else’s life rather than your own uniqueness.

insist on yourself never imitate essay

An error you may want to correct on this page — https://emersoncentral.com/texts/poems/the-rhodora/

inciteful spiritual connection

I post this here because today the addresses for typos and the webmaster return as invalid.

insist on yourself never imitate essay

amen “nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind”.–ralph waldo emerson. I walk along the path the lord has chosen for me knowing that I will prove my innocence! two roads diverged on a yellow road and I took the one less traveled by& that has made all the difference”.–robert frost. I am but your humble servant my lord god. the world may be in chaos but whosoever believeth in me will have inner peace ✌️.

Leave a Comment Cancel Reply

Ralph Waldo Emerson Quote

Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can offer with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation, but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession.

Select Essays and Poems (ed. 1808)

Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can offer with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation, but of the adopted talent of...

Quote of the day

Ralph waldo emerson.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Featured Authors

Immanuel Kant

Predictions that didn't happen

If it's on the Internet it must be true

If it's on the Internet it must be true

Remarkable Last Words (or Near-Last Words)

Remarkable Last Words (or Near-Last Words)

Picture quotes.

If you see what is right and fail to act on it, you lack courage.

Philip James Bailey

Life was meant to be lived, and curiosity must be kept alive.

Eleanor Roosevelt

A great change in life is like a cold bath in winter — we all hesitate at the first plunge.

Letitia Elizabeth Landon

Popular topics.

IMAGES

  1. Ralph Waldo Emerson Quote: “Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own

    insist on yourself never imitate essay

  2. Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Insist on yourself; never imitate.”

    insist on yourself never imitate essay

  3. Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Insist on yourself; never imitate.”

    insist on yourself never imitate essay

  4. Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Insist on yourself; never imitate.”

    insist on yourself never imitate essay

  5. Insist On YourSelf • Never Imitate • By Ralph Waldo Emerson Great

    insist on yourself never imitate essay

  6. Ralph Waldo Emerson Quote: “Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own

    insist on yourself never imitate essay

VIDEO

  1. Never imitate dangerous actions

COMMENTS

  1. Ralph Waldo Emerson on Self-Reliance and Nonconformity

    "Insist on yourself; never imitate." (Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson) Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson is a classic essay on the importance of nonconformity, individuality, and self-reliance. The ideas contained in the essay provide a much needed antidote against the conforming pressures of our age, as Emerson was a strong believer in the importance of not

  2. Emersonian Perfectionism: A Passage From 'Self-Reliance'

    Ralph Waldo Emerson said it first: "Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent ...

  3. A Summary and Analysis of Ralph Waldo Emerson's 'Self-Reliance'

    This explains the title of his essay: 'Self-Reliance' is about relying on one's own sense of oneself, and having confidence in one's ideas and opinions. In a famous quotation, Emerson asserts: 'In every work of genius we recognise our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.'.

  4. Ralph Waldo Emerson's Self-Reliance Summary (and PDF): Become Your Own

    In his famous 1841 essay Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson argues that society is in conspiracy against our individuality. To really live good lives, we must have the courage to resist conformity and trust the 'immense intelligence' of our own intuition and gut instinct. ... Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present ...

  5. Self-Reliance (1840) by Ralph Waldo Emerson

    In perhaps his most famous essay, "Self-Reliance," he urged his readers to believe in themselves and to choose transcendental nonconformity instead of simply following the conventional dictates of society. ... Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation ...

  6. Insist On Yourself; Never Imitate: Emerson On Self-Reliance

    Ralph Waldo Emerson - (1803-1882) was a U.S. philosopher, poet, and essayist whose treatise on - Self-Reliance - offers the quote above and a lot more. Known as an outspoken leader of the mid-19th century Transcendentalist movement, Emerson was a fierce champion of individualism and was respected for his philosophical essays and critical ...

  7. ENGL405: Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self-Reliance"

    The essay was first published in 1841, but elements of the essay appeared in one of the author's journal entries as early as 1832, and in various public lectures given in the intervening years. ... Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the ...

  8. Themes in Self-Reliance

    Emerson posits individualism as the central theme of this essay. Emerson calls for each reader to not look at past heroes, or even at Emerson himself, for guidance on how to be the greatest person they can be. ... "Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's ...

  9. Literary Devices in Self-Reliance

    Self-Reliance. 🔒 2. "Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half possession...." See in text (Self-Reliance)

  10. Emerson's Self-Reliance Key Takeaways

    The 1841 essay exhorts readers to defy society norms and follow their own convictions instead of relying on their gut feeling. ... " Insist on yourself; never imitate."

  11. Integrity and Inner Solitude: Emerson on Self-Reliance

    Ralph Waldo Emerson, in an 1841 essay, posits that it hinges on the choice one makes to think for themselves. Society provides much good for each of us; shelter, protection from harm, opportunities for technology, education, and work which would otherwise never exist. ... "Insist on yourself; never imitate." Trusting your unique talents and ...

  12. What Is Self-Reliance and How to Develop It?

    Insist on yourself, never imitate. ... Emerson's famous essay, Self-Reliance, has inspired millions of readers throughout the years. He tells us that no one is better at being you than you. He ...

  13. Behind the quote: Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Insist on yourself; never imitate… Every great man is unique. What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone. Emerson on character:

  14. Self-Reliance, by Emerson

    Insist on yourself; never imitate. Society never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains on the other. The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man. Discontent is the want of self-reliance: it is infirmity of will. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.

  15. Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson

    In this famous and often quoted essay, first published in 1841, Emerson speaks of confident individualism. ... Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession. That which ...

  16. Neil Strauss On Emerson's Self-Reliance

    Philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson first published his perennial essay "Self-Reliance" in 1841. Part of the American Transcendentalist, argued for individualism and questioning of society's norms. ... "Insist on yourself; never imitate." Being yourself is the gift you can give to the world. "Every great man is unique," and ...

  17. What are the themes in Emerson's "Self-Reliance"?

    This advice is the theme of Emerson's "Self-Reliance": Trust thyself, and value thy own experiences, insights, opinions, and experiences above those presented by society and religion. Rejecting ...

  18. Fifty Quotations by Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Insist on yourself; never imitate. — "Self-Reliance" The three practical rules, then which I have to offer, are,—1. Never read any book that is not a year old. 2. Never read any but famed books. 3. Never read any but what you like. — "Books" The essence of friendship is entireness, a total magnanimity and truth. — "Friendship"

  19. "Insist on yourself; never imitate"

    Maybe that's what made Emerson's essay seem so up-to-date. At any rate, it was not those famous quotes from "Self-Reliance" that grabbed me so much as this one: "Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another ...

  20. 'Insist on yourself; never imitate': 25 May 2022

    Two themes of American thought: One, the individual, self-referencing spirituality from poets and thinkers, and, two, the other the sacrificing, stern, God-fearing, community-policing do-gooding of the Puritans, kicked out of their own countries and determined to find another somewhere else, even if it didn't exist yet.

  21. Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Ralph Waldo Emerson I am writing this essay on the beliefs and thoughts of Ralph Waldo Emerson on the subjects of individuality, society, government, technology, and spirituality. ... "Insist on yourself; never imitate;" and leave it there For me, an attempt "to be as different from everyone else as much as you can" would be to put your ...

  22. Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can

    Ralph Waldo Emerson Quote. Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can offer with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation, but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession. Ralph Waldo Emerson. Select Essays and Poems (ed. 1808)

  23. Quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your

    Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him.". ― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance: An Excerpt from Collected Essays, First Series.