“Self-Reliance” reflects on, often dismissed, individual insights. Ralph Waldo Emerson believes it is important that we recognize and encourage individuals to trust in their own thoughts more than those from other people (such as famous writers). He believes someone mature and trusting in their original thoughts, rather than those conforming to society, are heading towards greatness. Throughout the essay he argues that trusting oneself before others is the most important realization one can have and the most beneficial for oneself. Toning oneself down for others only encourages and brings about mediocrity and discourages authenticness. However, self-reliance has the ability to “revolutionize” society if we so allow.
He acknowledges that, while they may not be positive characteristics for someone to possess, or the best example of having self-reliance; self-reliance is often stronger in males as they are often more independent and prone to being judgemental with a lack of respect. While that may not be the most flattering example it does ring true. He continues on to note that we can also see a good example of self-reliance in children, since the world has yet to shape them and their mindsets. Children and babies freely think, believe and feel and do not focus on outside sources to tell them how they should react to something. As a result, this is the best example we can learn from in regards to self-reliance and wanting to fully trust our gut and our own thoughts.
Meanwhile, “The American Scholar” breaks down and explores what Emerson believes influences a scholar. He discusses the effect that nature, history and actions have on the “thinking man” and explores their responsibilities. He believes that we should allow nature to teach us. We should acknowledge the similarities between it and our minds, like how each possess and strives for order. This is seen in our minds by the way they sort through the constant information we are learning and the importance it has to past knowledge we have stored. Emerson believes that nature and the human mind mirror one another and fall parallel.
Emerson also expresses the influence and importance books/history have on us. He says that while they “contain the learning of the past” they can also “pose a great danger.” Books are, inevitably, somewhat biased and based on society’s standards at the time of writing. They can also keep scholars from forming their own thoughts and opinions due to something, like respect, for the writers of the past. However, like stated prior, books do hold an importance outside of keeping society educated. It is important to inspire and be inspired by others, though one should not allow their work to be influenced by past writers. This is what has the capability of creating new, possibly important, works. Overall, educating yourself and reading past works/learning history is beneficial as long as you do not let it influence the way you believe and act.
Emerson concludes the essay by addressessing the scholar’s societal obligations. He believes that developing a strong self-trust is the most important task and that working through hardships and self-sacrificing leads to great knowledge. Along with the same ideas that one must be self-reliant, original and brave in their thoughts. This conclusion coincides with what is said through the whole of “Self-reliance.”
As a result, these essays work together to inform Emerson’s audience and encourage individual growth by bringing clarity to the challenges that are presented to us in regards to knowledge, personalities and distinction in our specific fields of work and daily life. He is constant in his push for individuality and explaining the importance it has on oneself and the society around them. Pushing for this diversity and ever-growing knowledge encourages the audience to want to be self-reliant. It lets the audience know that their own thoughts have value and can have an impact on the world around them. It lets them know that they are capable of inspiring others and that as long as they are self-aware and can acknowledge and critique themselves, they can and will do great things.
Emerson’s stance strives for and leads to a diverse world with vast knowledge and the desire for change. He lets his audience know that it is okay to go a different path than what is expected and that, that is often times better for us and the world around us. He does not judge what one does, but rather lets them know that they have other options they might not have seen or considered prior. Emerson encourages individual growth by explaining what it means to him and the benefits it gives us and our world.
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