Don’t Apologize for Who You Are : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 011

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

“Virtues are, in the popular estimate, rather the exception than the rule. There is the man and his virtues. Men do what is called a good action, as some piece of courage or charity, much as they would pay a fine in expiation of daily non-appearance on parade. Their works are done as an apology or extenuation of their living in the world,—as invalids and the insane pay a high board. Their virtues are penances. I do not wish to expiate, but to live. My life is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, than that it should be glittering and unsteady. I wish it to be sound and sweet, and not to need diet and bleeding. I ask primary evidence that you are a man, and refuse this appeal from the man to his actions. I know that for myself it makes no difference whether I do or forbear those actions which are reckoned excellent. I cannot consent to pay for a privilege where I have intrinsic right. Few and mean as my gifts may be, I actually am, and do not need for my own assurance or the assurance of my fellows any secondary testimony.”

“Their virtues are penances.”

You don’t have to do anything to justify your existence. You are what you are, and that’s OK.

Unless, of course, you want to be something or someone different. That’s OK too – as long as you are working on becoming that someone/something because you want to, and not because you think that you’re deficient in any way.

Do you have to have the approval of others? Sometimes. For example, we wage slaves have to have the approval of a boss. But in that case, do you want that approval because of the work that you do? Or because of who you are?

I created the tagline for this site (Accepting Who You Are – Becoming Who You Want To Be) for a specific reason – it’s the only way for me to live. There are lots of things I want to be, from a kinder, more generous person, to someone who has strength for two, to someone who has the material means to be as valuable as I can to (or at least not a drain on) the world. I’ve wanted those things for a long time, but until I could accept myself, exactly as I am in this moment, I was stuck. A person who hates themselves believes that they deserve nothing, and no matter how much they try, that deep down feeling of “not good enough” will be an insurmountable obstacle to any lasting progress.

I don’t feel this way (most of the time) anymore. I seem to be making the progress that I deserve to make.

I’m saying this not to toot my own horn, but to encourage you to do the same. It is possible to make progress – I know this because I have.

I’m not putting out that bullshit that “If I can do it you can to.” We’ll do it differently, because our iron strings are different. And thank god for that.

You have no penance to perform.

Accept who you are. Become who you want to be.

4 thoughts on “Don’t Apologize for Who You Are : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 011

  1. Jorah

    “Accept who you are.” Is a subtle and difficult problem. We have to first become aware of who we actually are, behind stories that we’ve spun up for others and for ourselves, stories that we believe and that we hope others will believe about who we are. Sometimes those stories are about how wonderful we are, and sometimes they’re set up as evidence that we’re horrible people (the reasons we’d want to think we’re horrible are many, and not always obvious).

    Building skills to allow us to see more of the world (and more of ourselves) stripped of pretense… that sort of skill building is very difficult. I believe that, for me, one of the best schools for learning these skills is meditation, of the sort taught by Larry Rosenberg (see: ‘Breath by Breath’), Claude Anshin Thomas (see: ‘At Hell’s Gate: A Soldier’s Journey’), Jack Kornfield (see: ‘Meditation for Beginners’) and Stephen Batchelor (see: ‘Buddhism without Beliefs’).

    These teachers (and many others), teach that, to see the world clearly, we must see ourselves clearly, and that an unflinching love is the only way to see ourselves clearly.

    It seems likely that the acceptance has to come first. That love enables clarity, which in turn allows us to move forward.

    1. Lyman Reed Post author

      Wow, Jorah… that comment was better than the original post! 🙂

      The difficulty of unconditional self acceptance can’t be overstated – and I’m afraid my post didn’t articulate that enough. It’s so much more than a “just do it!” attitude (although that is the starting point). So many skills are involved, both offensive and defensive, since our society is built on us not accepting ourselves.

      Completely agree about the meditation – a couple of those resources (Rosenberg and Thomas) are new to me, so thanks for the pointers.

  2. Jorah

    Thanks, Lyman. I’m hoping to build that comment into a post on one of my own blogs, so I appreciate the kind sentiment.


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