Intentions In Private Vs. Actions In Public : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 008

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


“These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world. 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 shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.”


We like predictability. We want to know how people around us are going to act. Without certainty, there’s threat.

These are the reasons that we join our tribes, often unconsciously – we want people around us who think like us, act like us, even look like us. This way we can easily and accurately predict what they will say and how they will act.

This provides us with a perception of safety and security. Maslow said that these are basic needs of human beings.

Not that all groupthink is wrong. But often it is. Slavery, rape, racism – in the past, these were all considered OK, even good. In some circles, they disgustingly still are. If it wasn’t for people who stood up and said “Hey, that’s fucked up, cut that shit out.” we’d probably still accept these actions and ideas as acceptable.

In my opinion, Emerson isn’t telling us to be different for the sake of being different. He’s telling us to not do something just because the crowd is doing it. Even if the majority is doing something, it doesn’t mean it’s right. One person can be right while the whole world is wrong.

It’s people who listen to the music of their own iron string and dance in public that change the world. What you contemplate in private is important for preparation for living, but it don’t mean jack if you live like everyone else in public.

1 thought on “Intentions In Private Vs. Actions In Public : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 008

  1. Pingback: Whatever, I Do What I Want : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 009 – Lyman Reed

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