Continuing our discussion of “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
“I hope in these days we have heard the last of conformity and consistency. Let the words be gazetted and ridiculous henceforward. Instead of the gong for dinner, let us hear a whistle from the Spartan fife. Let us never bow and apologize more. A great man is coming to eat at my house. I do not wish to please him; I wish that he should wish to please me. I will stand here for humanity, and though I would make it kind, I would make it true. Let us affront and reprimand the smooth mediocrity and squalid contentment of the times, and hurl in the face of custom, and trade, and office, the fact which is the upshot of all history, that there is a great responsible Thinker and Actor working wherever a man works; that a true man belongs to no other time or place, but is the centre of things. Where he is, there is nature. He measures you, and all men, and all events. Ordinarily, every body in society reminds us of somewhat else, or of some other person. Character, reality, reminds you of nothing else; it takes place of the whole creation. The man must be so much, that he must make all circumstances indifferent. Every true man is a cause, a country, and an age; requires infinite spaces and numbers and time fully to accomplish his design; —and posterity seem to follow his steps as a train of clients. A man Caesar is born, and for ages after we have a Roman Empire. Christ is born, and millions of minds so grow and cleave to his genius, that he is confounded with virtue and the possible of man. An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man; as, Monachism, of the Hermit Antony; the Reformation, of Luther; Quakerism, of Fox; Methodism, of Wesley; Abolition, of Clarkson. Scipio, Milton called “the height of Rome”; and all history resolves itself very easily into the biography of a few stout and earnest persons.”
“A great man is coming to eat at my house. I do not wish to please him; I wish that he should wish to please me.”
I’ve mentioned this story before, but it really does bear repeating in light of the line above:
Alexander the Great went to meet the Cynic Philosopher Diogenes of Sinope, since Diogenes was one of the few famous philosophers and statesmen who hadn’t sought out Alexander to kiss his ass and ask for things. Alexander found him relaxing outside and asked Diogenes what he could do for him. Alexander was the most powerful person in the world, so Diogenes could have asked for anything humanly possible.
Diogenes said “Yes, there is something that you can do for me. Get out of my sun.”
Alexander was so impressed by this, and by the way Diogenes carried himself, that he said “If I wasn’t Alexander, I would want to be Diogenes.”
So Diogenes said “If I wasn’t Diogenes, I’d want to be Diogenes too.”
That is having a great man come to you and him wishing to please you, rather than the other way around.
“The man must be so much, that he must make all circumstances indifferent.”
You’ve gotta be bigger than your problems. T. Harv Eker has a great way of explaining this. Let’s put your ability to deal with problems and the problems themselves on a scale of one to ten. If you are at a one or a two on this scale, the biggest problems you’ll be able to deal with are also on that level of one or two (maybe a broken shoelace or a waiter not getting your order correct.) Someone who’s at a five will brush those off like they are nothing, but could be crushed by something a little bit bigger (car accident, financial problems.) A person at a 10? They can truly make “all circumstances indifferent”. She may not be able to change the circumstances, but she can learn to accept and even love them.
Those are my thoughts on the points that jumped out at me in this passage. I’d love to hear your thoughts as well. Feel free to drop them in the comments.