WWDD : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 007

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


“The nonchalance of boys who are sure of a dinner, and would disdain as much as a lord to do or say aught to conciliate one, is the healthy attitude of human nature. A boy is in the parlour what the pit is in the playhouse; independent, irresponsible, looking out from his corner on such people and facts as pass by, he tries and sentences them on their merits, in the swift, summary way of boys, as good, bad, interesting, silly, eloquent, troublesome. He cumbers himself never about consequences, about interests: he gives an independent, genuine verdict. You must court him: he does not court you. But the man is, as it were, clapped into jail by his consciousness. As soon as he has once acted or spoken with eclat, he is a committed person, watched by the sympathy or the hatred of hundreds, whose affections must now enter into his account. There is no Lethe for this. Ah, that he could pass again into his neutrality! Who can thus avoid all pledges, and having observed, observe again from the same unaffected, unbiased, unbribable, unaffrighted innocence, must always be formidable. He would utter opinions on all passing affairs, which being seen to be not private, but necessary, would sink like darts into the ear of men, and put them in fear.”


I think what he’s saying here, once again, is to not worry so much about what others think. This time he’s specifically referring to those of a higher socioeconomic status. It reminds me of the story of Diogenes the Cynic philosopher and Alexander the Great:

“Thereupon many statesmen and philosophers came to Alexander with their congratulations, and he expected that Diogenes of Sinope also, who was tarrying in Corinth, would do likewise. But since that philosopher took not the slightest notice of Alexander, and continued to enjoy his leisure in the suburb Craneion, Alexander went in person to see him; and he found him lying in the sun. Diogenes raised himself up a little when he saw so many people coming towards him, and fixed his eyes upon Alexander. And when that monarch addressed him with greetings, and asked if he wanted anything, “Yes,” said Diogenes, “stand a little out of my sun.” It is said that Alexander was so struck by this, and admired so much the haughtiness and grandeur of the man who had nothing but scorn for him, that he said to his followers, who were laughing and jesting about the philosopher as they went away, “But truly, if I were not Alexander, I wish I were Diogenes.” and Diogenes replied “If I wasn’t Diogenes, I would be wishing to be Diogenes too.” (via Wikipedia)

Of course, I don’t plan to start jacking it in public like Diogenes did, but he and his fellow Cynics really had something to teach us – the art of Self-Reliance.

Further along, Emerson tells us that once “you do you” in a spectacular way, there’s really no going back to the life that you had before:

“As soon as he has once acted or spoken with eclat, he is a committed person, watched by the sympathy or the hatred of hundreds, whose affections must now enter into his account. There is no Lethe [a way of forgetting] for this.”

Self-Reliance isn’t for the faint of heart. But at the same time we don’t have to go full throttle out of the gate. There’s nothing wrong with contemplation, testing the waters, and coming to a decision based on reason *and* emotion.

But don’t let the guiding emotion be fear, and don’t let the guiding reason be the opinion of others.

 

1 thought on “WWDD : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 007

  1. Pingback: Get Out Of My Sun : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 020 – Lyman Reed

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