Emerson. The guy’s a bad ass, no doubt about it. I mean just look at that face – straight bad ass! He’s a 19th century dude who in the midst of massive social conformity, did things on his own terms. Quite the chutzpah. Lucky for us, he was also one hell of a philosopher and poet.
A good friend and mentor of mine, Brian from Philosopher’s Notes, strongly encouraged me to check out one of Emerson’s most famous pieces of work: Self-Reliance. For the most part, it’s about trusting yourself regardless of who’s telling you what. I digs it!
Read it slowly and don’t mind the old school style of scripture – it’s worth the patience. Here are 23 of my favorite quotes from Self-Reliance.
1. 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.
2. There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide.
3. 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.
4. Infancy conforms to nobody: all conform to it.
5. 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 share-holder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity.
6. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.
7. 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.
8. Your goodness must have some edge to it, – else it is none.
9. 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.
10. A man must consider what a blindman’s-buff is this game of conformity.
11. What i must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who, in the midst of the crowd, keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.
12. For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure. And therefore a man must know how to estimate a sour face.
13. 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 everything 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.
14. 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.
15. An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.
16. 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 absence is all that we can affirm. Every man discriminate between the voluntary acts of his mind and his involuntary perceptions, and knows that to his involuntary perceptions a perfect faith is due.
17. Whence, then, this worship of the past? The centuries are conspirators against the sanity and authority of the soul.
18. 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.
19. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.
20. Nature suffers nothing to remain in her kingdom which cannot help itself.
21. And truly it demands something god like 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!
22. 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.
23. 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.
All photos are courtesy of the #1 travel photography blog: Stuck In Customs.
“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 happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I must be myself. 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 may you 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.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance and Other Essays