Living Like a Brute : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 006

Continuing our discussion of “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“What pretty oracles nature yields us on this text, in the face and behaviour of children, babes, and even brutes! That divided and rebel mind, that distrust of a sentiment because our arithmetic has computed the strength and means opposed to our purpose, these have not. Their mind being whole, their eye is as yet unconquered, and when we look in their faces, we are disconcerted. Infancy conforms to nobody: all conform to it, so that one babe commonly makes four or five out of the adults who prattle and play to it. So God has armed youth and puberty and manhood no less with its own piquancy and charm, and made it enviable and gracious and its claims not to be put by, if it will stand by itself. Do not think the youth has no force, because he cannot speak to you and me. Hark! in the next room his voice is sufficiently clear and emphatic. It seems he knows how to speak to his contemporaries. Bashful or bold, then, he will know how to make us seniors very unnecessary.”

This was another difficult one for me. I think he’s saying that there are times to stop doubting and start living – who cares if the odds that “our arithmetic has computed” are against us… live! Do what’s in your heart, like a baby, like a teenager, even like a “brute” (could mean an animal, could mean a person who just does what he wants regardless of the consequences).

Sorry Ralph Waldo, but I’m not all in here. Not all of my passions are constructive. Yes, there’s a time for letting it all hang out. I could learn a lot about taking risks. But we have our reason for a reason, and I don’t want to live like a brute anymore.

Human beings were “built” to live together. And if the music of my iron string tells me that it’s OK to do what I want, when I want, regardless of the consequences to others (either those close to me or any of the other countless organisms out there), then that music must be turned off.

What are your thoughts on this?


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