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Discussion Of An Excerpt From “Self-Reliance”

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In order to survive in this world of today, it is important to be both independent and inter-dependent. Humans tend to take advantage over other humans, especially when they are at a higher position than the others. The sixth sense of man tends to make him judgmental, thus giving him a feeling of others who seek his help as lesser mortals. However, the very sixth sense of man that gives him an edge over other species causes him rifts between other people of his own kind (McHarg and Steiner 97). In his essays, Ralph Waldo Emerson has repeatedly stressed for the need of man to be self-reliant on his instincts and abilities, and to wean off from the concept of a mandatory dependency state. In this paper, an excerpt of the essay “Self-Reliance” by the author has been discussed, and its underlying concept analyzed (Emerson 10). A subjective opinion and feedback of the reader’s views on the essay shall also be provided.

In the excerpt, Emerson has stated that one’s actions must be a reflection of his thoughts and concerns, and not that of the thoughts of other people, who have no connection to his life. He has stated that some people tend to think themselves entitled to another person’s life, and tend to interfere in the latter’s life by providing their unwanted opinion. He says that though it is easy to humor the interfering people by agreeing with them in their company, and listening to oneself when alone, greatness is maintain a balance, and asserting oneself even in an interfering company.

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Emerson has called for the need of self-assertion and autonomy of one’s thoughts in one’s life, by not paying heed to the unwarranted opinion of others, however well meaning they might be. According to him, one must take complete control and ownership of one’s own life, thus making decision making easy. Emerson says that many people have the opinion that they know better than the concerned person himself, and that to follow their way is to do the right thing (Sacks 109). However, one would be termed mean and proud, if the societal opinions are unheeded to. For an average person who does not assert himself, depending on the opinions on others, and altering one’s life to suit their narratives might be the easier option, than to assert himself and be shunned.

One must take control of one’s opinions, and must be in a position to show the opinions of others the door, when one feels that it is interfering with one’s ideals and lifestyle. Emerson focuses on maintaining the balance in such critical issues. He says that a person who is able to take ownership of his own life, make critical decisions on his own, and does what he feels is the right thing, all in the midst of interfering voices, would be termed as great (White 200). This is indeed a necessary trait for a person to assert oneself strongly enough, so that interferences would not affect him.

Quoting John Donne, “No man is an island” (Donne 17), it can be understood that man, being the most vulnerable of all species of the earth, needs the help of others to survive. Life on earth has flourished with the ability of its organisms to live symbiotically, depending on each other for their survival. However, that mutual interdependence must not be mistaken for weakness, and self-dependence must be asserted at all times, in order to live a life with no regrets.

For a person living in today’s world, self-reliance is an important trait. Many people tend to make major decisions erroneously, just because they could not assert themselves in front of interfering voices. Self-reliance and a strong self-confidence filled attitude is necessary in time of adversaries – when one tends to be in a disadvantageous position when compared to his peers, and is more likely to fall for peer pressure (Tian M et al 355). Self-reliance in decision making is also one of the crucial things that people need to learn from their teenage years, as that is the stage they tend to fall for peer pressures.

In adulthood too, people tend to listen to other’s opinion, either because they have no voice to assert themselves, or that they fear the hypothetical consequences of self-assertion. Many problems that plague the society, such as abusive relationships, broken families, etc. could be solved by the people in-charge of the situation being able to assert themselves, rather than fearing the society’s opinion on them (Helin 200). Curtailing cowardly behavior and enabling self-reliance would bring about a positive change to the family, and the society at large.

This excerpt from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance” would enable man to make his voice heard amidst interferences. Even though it has been subject to various criticisms, flaying the concept of self-reliance for being egoistic and insensitive (Read 30), it has been adapted in various forms of popular culture, and needs to be ingrained in the minds of each and every person. This book’s relevance to the current society, though written more than a hundred and sixty years ago, reflects the visionary that Emerson was.


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