October 12th, 2018
Being An Individual
To be self-reliant is to not have to depend on someone else’s opinion to make up your mind on something. These can be moral decisions whether you choose to participate in something because you think it is wrong. Or to challenge the status quo or peoples comfort with something. This can be hard to do because you want to please the people closest to you, or you don’t want your decision to have negative effects on someone else. But there is something about making your own decision that is freeing. In “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson, he talks about the importance of individualism in a world that wants you to be anything but that. Individualism is a mental state where you don’t need someone else’s opinion in order to make your own decision.
Making up your own mind on an issue is something that can largely be very controversial, making hard to maintain some relationships. You can find the positives of making your own choices in Self Reliance. In this Emerson writing you can find some of the best reasons as to why you need to make your own decisions and not conform to society’s way of thinking “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think.”CITATION Eme41 l 1033 (Emerson) Saying that the opinion of people should not be what the driving force of your decisions. But that you should be secure in yourself to be your own person and to make the decisions you make “to be great is to be misunderstood.”CITATION Eme41 l 1033 (Emerson) Near the end of the letter that Emerson writes he puts everything together by saying that “nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”CITATION Eme41 l 1033 (Emerson).
This letter is one where he preaches the idea that people can have an effect on the growth of others and the ability to make their own decisions. This model would be very influential in the idea that people should be reliant on themselves and their own instincts. It has stood the test of time and is still one of the more talked about and polarizing letters to ever be written. As Emerson’s views of looking into yourself for your opinions was and still is very unpopular in a world where the masses like to control the opinions of others.
In Henry David Thoreau “Civil Disobedience” Thoreau gives light to the idea that if you believe a law is wrong or think it singles out a certain group of people that you must disobey it. As this is coming from a man who didn’t pay his taxes as a way to protest slavery and the Mexican war as he would later be sent to jail for the crime. He would go on in the store to talk about how he cant be forced to do something he doesn’t believe in ” I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest.” CITATION Hen49 l 1033 (Thoreau) He goes on to say that the rights of the people should come before the law ” It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right.”CITATION Hen49 l 1033 (Thoreau) Near the end of the paper he says that the government should not be able to have control over the lights of other people referring to the rights of the slaves ” It can have no pure right over my person and property but what I concede to it.”CITATION Hen49 l 1033 (Thoreau) This concept at the time was something that was very new as it was not the normal kind of protest at the time. This would a protest comparable to kneeling for the national anthem but something much more serious as not paying you taxes is against the law. It is significant because this was a man who believed so much in his cause that he went to jail going against what someone else might have done and instead making up his mind for what he thought was the right thing to do. He would go on to talk about should you follow a law when you believe something is wrong. Even when society tries to pass it on as right “Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think we should be men first, and subjects afterwards.”CITATION Hen49 l 1033 (Thoreau) Challenging the view that you have to be okay with the status quo or with the opinions others. This is where I believe Emerson, and Thoreau are on the same page when it comes to being your own person as not many people would risk jail time for the things they believe in. As Thoreau believed you should be willing to sacrifice what you have for the good of someone else.
Thoreau’s story would go onto influence modern movements for the rights of others and the liberty of the oppressed. I believe that the movements like civil rights are the kind of things Thoreau and Emerson wanted us to challenge our thinking on and that they would want us to think about. As it took a small group of people to go against the opinion society thought of them that they even risked their freedom for the good of others. I believe that Thoreau had a spirit of someone who would not be held down by society that he would do what he believed was the right thing to do which looking back now is admirable of someone who had nothing to gain and everything to lose.
When Emerson, and Thoreau wrote these letters they changed how people looked at the world and their place in the world. They both preached independence not needing someone to give you an opinion on something while also standing up against something that you believe is wrong. But you get the feeling that just like in the time we live in now society controlled peoples thoughts and looked down on people who had a different opinion. In the end when people start to think for themselves and stand up for what they believe in no matter how people think of you that is when real change comes about.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Self Reliance.” Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Self Reliance. 1841. 80-116.
Thoreau, Henry David. “Civil Disobedience.” Concord Lyceum, 1849.