Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) was indeed a profound thinker, but his ideas on self-reliance, while compelling, are not without their flaws. In his book “Self-Reliance,” he emphasized self-reliance, self-culture, and individual expression. He wrote that we praise Moses, Plato, and Milton because they did not accept what they read in books or taught as tradition but only their own ideas “that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within.”
He stressed that we must trust ourselves, not others. “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind…. What I must do is all that concerns me, not what people think…. Make the most of yourself…for that is all there is of you.”
Emerson encourages us not to fear changing our minds. “Leave your [past] theory, as Joseph, his coat in the hand of the harlot, and flee. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…. Our greatest glory is not in never failing but in rising up every time we fail…. Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.” This powerful message instills a sense of inspiration and motivation, reminding us of the potential for personal growth and development.
He writes that we should rely on ourselves and cast off the teachings of the past. “Is the acorn better than the oak, which is its fulness and completion?”
We must stop being weak and living lives where we depend on others. This is wrong. “Insist on yourself; never imitate.”
All of Emerson’s statements, his emphasis on the individual’s thinking and experiences, free from the influence of texts, traditions, or other people’s authority, is undeniably compelling. However, it is crucial to acknowledge the value of external influences and collaboration in our intellectual and personal growth.
Emerson was wrong. Moses, Plato, and Milton did not ignore what they learned from others when they added their ideas.
Too many people have harmful ideas. If they had had a good education based on the teachings of the past, some of them would not have done the harm to others that they did.