What You Are vs. What You Do : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 018

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


“I suppose no man can violate his nature. All the sallies of his will are rounded in by the law of his being, as the inequalities of Andes and Himmaleh are insignificant in the curve of the sphere. Nor does it matter how you gauge and try him. A character is like an acrostic or Alexandrian stanza; —read it forward, backward, or across, it still spells the same thing. In this pleasing, contrite wood-life which God allows me, let me record day by day my honest thought without prospect or retrospect, and, I cannot doubt, it will be found symmetrical, though I mean it not, and see it not. My book should smell of pines and resound with the hum of insects. The swallow over my window should interweave that thread or straw he carries in his bill into my web also. We pass for what we are. Character teaches above our wills. Men imagine that they communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment.”


There’s a quote out there (I’m sure I’m paraphrasing it) that I can’t find the source for: “What you are screams at me no matter what you do.”

Sure sounds a lot like “Men imagine that they communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment.”

When we do anything, we are doing it to and for the entirety of reality, because we are a part of that reality. No matter what those who peddle woo say, we aren’t the Universe. We are a tiny process of reality, like a wave on the ocean. But we *are* a part of it. That’s our nature.

No one but you can know what will fulfill your specific role as the unique wave that you are – your own way to fulfill that nature. You may not know yet, and if you don’t, keep exploring. Your chances of finding it are nearly zero if you don’t. Don’t worry if it seems “selfish”. If it’s good for you, it’s good for the universe, as long as it doesn’t harm another wave out there.

In my opinion, many of the mental health issues that are plaguing us today come from people violating their nature, thinking that they have to model what our sick society considers “success”. I was guilty of that for a long, long time, and I still catch my mind going there more often than I’d like to admit. Emerson may say that we can’t violate that nature – I think it’s more accurate to say that we can, but there’s a very real and very high price for doing that.

It’s just not worth it.


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please drop them in the comments.

 

2 thoughts on “What You Are vs. What You Do : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 018

  1. Jorah

    My understanding of ‘you can’t violate it’ was more like ‘you’re showing your true character by your bad actions as well as your good ones.’

    We need to recognize the places where we slip as well as the places where we stand tall…

    The bad things we do may be part of our character, but that doesn’t mean we have to keep doing those. We can gently guide ourselves toward the better sides of ourselves, like a gardener slowly tending a garden over many years.

    Reply
    1. Lyman Reed Post author

      Good point Jorah. And to emphasize – the places we stand tall have to be recognized just as often as the places that we slip. We’re all a bit blind when it comes to both our faults and our virtues, sometimes even mixing the two up because of our screwy perceptions.

      Reply

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