Category Archives: Self-Reliance

Maybe You’re Just Crazy : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 021

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


“Let a man then know his worth, and keep things under his feet. Let him not peep or steal, or skulk up and down with the air of a charity-boy, a bastard, or an interloper, in the world which exists for him. But the man in the street, finding no worth in himself which corresponds to the force which built a tower or sculptured a marble god, feels poor when he looks on these. To him a palace, a statue, or a costly book have an alien and forbidding air, much like a gay equipage, and seem to say like that, ‘Who are you, Sir?’ Yet they all are his, suitors for his notice, petitioners to his faculties that they will come out and take possession. The picture waits for my verdict: it is not to command me, but I am to settle its claims to praise. That popular fable of the sot who was picked up dead drunk in the street, carried to the duke’s house, washed and dressed and laid in the duke’s bed, and, on his waking, treated with all obsequious ceremony like the duke, and assured that he had been insane, owes its popularity to the fact, that it symbolizes so well the state of man, who is in the world a sort of sot, but now and then wakes up, exercises his reason, and finds himself a true prince.”


What if your entire life you’ve been insane? That everything “negative” that you’ve thought about yourself – as someone who isn’t good enough, someone who is too old, too young, too poor, too sick, too stupid – has been wrong.

Or… what if you’ve been right – up until this point you have been too old, too young, too poor, too sick, too stupid – but it’s only because you’ve fallen for the illusion that your circumstances make you who you are, so you’ve allowed yourself to become what you thought you were destined to be. Maybe if you were put into different circumstances, and were convinced that your previous ones were a mistake – all of that would change.

I’m not saying that any of this is true… just asking if you’re willing to entertain the possibility.

Are you even willing to be willing?

If you are willing (or at the very least willing to be willing), how can you change those circumstances? How can you work with the ones that you can’t change, and turn them into an asset?

How can you become the princess or prince that you, and only you, have the potential to be?


Did anything in that passage resonate with you? Have an opinion you’d like to share? Feel free to drop your own thoughts in the comments.

 

Get Out Of My Sun : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 020

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.”

Source

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.

 

Consistency Not Necessary : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 019

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


“There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. For of one will, the actions will be harmonious, however unlike they seem. These varieties are lost sight of at a little distance, at a little height of thought. One tendency unites them all. The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks. See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency. Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing. Act singly, and what you have already done singly will justify you now. Greatness appeals to the future. If I can be firm enough to-day to do right, and scorn eyes, I must have done so much right before as to defend me now. Be it how it will, do right now. Always scorn appearances, and you always may. The force of character is cumulative. All the foregone days of virtue work their health into this. What makes the majesty of the heroes of the senate and the field, which so fills the imagination? The consciousness of a train of great days and victories behind. They shed an united light on the advancing actor. He is attended as by a visible escort of angels. That is it which throws thunder into Chatham’s voice, and dignity into Washington’s port, and America into Adams’s eye. Honor is venerable to us because it is no ephemeris. It is always ancient virtue. We worship it to-day because it is not of to-day. We love it and pay it homage, because it is not a trap for our love and homage, but is self-dependent, self-derived, and therefore of an old immaculate pedigree, even if shown in a young person.”


You gotta do what you gotta do. Even if what you do today seems to be completely at odds with what you did yesterday, if it brings you closer to being the person you want to be and living the life you want to live… do it.

Don’t keep doing things the same way just because that’s the way that you’ve always done it. Life is change. Growth is change. Accept it and embrace it.


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

 

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.

 

A Foolish Consistency : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 017

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


“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.— ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ —Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”


There it is – possibly the most famous line that Emerson ever wrote:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

One thing that I’ve always thought about this quote is that he’s talking about a “foolish” consistency. Consistency can be good – consistency in brushing our teeth, taking showers, getting to work, being kind to others… that’s the good kind of consistency.

But if we are being consistent just because we have bought into the idea that others know better for us than we do ourselves, so we go along with the herd… not so good. Foolish, even. If going to work at a particular job is destroying your health (mentally or physically) – STOP IT. A few bucks a week isn’t worth it.

I know from personal experience – easier said than done. I’ve had jobs like that.  I would soldier on because I thought it was the right thing to do (“be a man and harden the fuck up!”) and/or because I thought I should be grateful to even have a job (“so many people don’t – count your blessings!”)

So I’d continue until I’d collapse. And I’d lose the job anyway because I couldn’t physically and mentally do it anymore.

And after recovering – I’d get another job. What??? Why didn’t I just quit and get another job before collapsing???

Because I was afraid of what others would think. I’d be a quitter, less of a man in their eyes. I’d be misunderstood.

Never again. Screw society’s consistency. I’m not comparing my mental health issues with the achievements of any of the giants he mentions… but I want to be great in my own way, on my own terms. Not in the eyes of others, but so that I can look in the mirror and honestly say “You done good, Lyman.”


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

 

Live Ever In A New Day : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 016

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


“But why should you keep your head over your shoulder? Why drag about this corpse of your memory, lest you contradict somewhat you have stated in this or that public place? Suppose you should contradict yourself; what then? It seems to be a rule of wisdom never to rely on your memory alone, scarcely even in acts of pure memory, but to bring the past for judgment into the thousand-eyed present, and live ever in a new day. In your metaphysics you have denied personality to the Deity, yet when the devout motions of the soul come, yield to them heart and life though they should clothe God with shape and color. Leave your theory, as Joseph his coat in the hand of the harlot, and flee.”


“…bring the past for judgment into the thousand-eyed present, and live ever in a new day.”

Never mind the opinions of others about who they think that you are… what about your opinion of yourself?

I used to think that there was something really wrong with me – I was flaky as hell when it came to religions, philosophies, beliefs… I’d find something new, like Stoicism, or Buddhism, or Objectivism and run with it, dropping all of my previously held beliefs and become the servant of my new master.

The only thing “wrong” with that was in the becoming of the servant.

The continual exploration of new beliefs and ideas has made my life rich beyond measure.

Just because we believe “A” today doesn’t mean that we have to believe it tomorrow. And just because we believed “AB” yesterday doesn’t mean that we can’t drop the “B” today while holding onto the “A”.

Again:

“If any man is able to convince me and show me that I do not think or act right, I will gladly change; for I seek the truth, by which no man was ever injured. But he is injured who abides in his error and ignorance.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book VI

Other People’s Comfort : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 015

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


“The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them.”


You don’t have to be who you’ve always been to please other people. You don’t have to stay fat to make them comfortable, or continue to drink alcohol just to fit in, or quit the warehouse job that you love because “you have so much more potential”.

Others want to know what to expect from you. It’s not your responsibility to make them comfortable. Your identity is your own, and you can keep it or work on changing it whenever you want.

And you don’t have to believe anything from “Self-Reliance” just because Ralph Waldo says so.

Discover yourself. Create yourself.

Give no fucks about the opinions of others.

“I Don’t Care What They Think!” : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 014

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


“For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure. And therefore a man must know how to estimate a sour face. The by-standers look askance on him in the public street or in the friend’s parlor. If this aversion had its origin in contempt and resistance like his own he might well go home with a sad countenance; but the sour faces of the multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause, but are put on and off as the wind blows and a newspaper directs. Yet is the discontent of the multitude more formidable than that of the senate and the college. It is easy enough for a firm man who knows the world to brook the rage of the cultivated classes. Their rage is decorous and prudent, for they are timid, as being very vulnerable themselves. But when to their feminine rage the indignation of the people is added, when the ignorant and the poor are aroused, when the unintelligent brute force that lies at the bottom of society is made to growl and mow, it needs the habit of magnanimity and religion to treat it godlike as a trifle of no concernment.”


You can’t avoid it – other people aren’t going to like it when you are different from the herd. There’s gonna be pushback – sometimes a whole lot of pushback.

And let’s be honest – it can hurt. Most people who say that they don’t care what other people think of them are either lying or not very self-aware. It’s built into our DNA to care what others think. It takes real practice to be free from the tyranny of other people’s opinions.

I’ve been watching a television show called “Catastrophe“. In one scene, a main character goes to dinner with an old boyfriend behind her current boyfriend’s back. She admits to it, and her current boyfriend asks if she still has feelings for him. “Oh, God No!” she says. “I just wanted him to still like me.”

“I get it,” he says. “I’ve got a Facebook account.”

This one really struck me, because I recently went dark on both my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I’m not saying that they don’t have their uses – but when the main purpose is self validation, and we find ourselves obsessing about what others think of our lives (or our blog posts, as a completely made up, random example) rather than using them to get information, share our gifts, and really connect with people… maybe it’s time to take a break.

We aren’t looking for perfection here, but maybe just a bit of working on unhooking from the opinion of others, no matter how dire their faces or excited in their praise they are, will go a long way towards helping us become who we want to be.

The Truth : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 013

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


“The objection to conforming to usages that have become dead to you is that it scatters your force. It loses your time and blurs the impression of your character. If you maintain a dead church, contribute to a dead Bible-society, vote with a great party either for the government or against it, spread your table like base housekeepers,—under all these screens I have difficulty to detect the precise man you are: and of course so much force is withdrawn from your proper life. But do your work, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself. A man must consider what a blind-man’s-buff is this game of conformity. If I know your sect I anticipate your argument. I hear a preacher announce for his text and topic the expediency of one of the institutions of his church. Do I not know beforehand that not possibly can he say a new spontaneous word? Do I not know that with all this ostentation of examining the grounds of the institution he will do no such thing? Do I not know that he is pledged to himself not to look but at one side, the permitted side, not as a man, but as a parish minister? He is a retained attorney, and these airs of the bench are the emptiest affectation. Well, most men have bound their eyes with one or another handkerchief, and attached themselves to some one of these communities of opinion. This conformity makes them not false in a few particulars, authors of a few lies, but false in all particulars. Their every truth is not quite true. Their two is not the real two, their four not the real four; so that every word they say chagrins us and we know not where to begin to set them right. Meantime nature is not slow to equip us in the prison-uniform of the party to which we adhere. We come to wear one cut of face and figure, and acquire by degrees the gentlest asinine expression. There is a mortifying experience in particular, which does not fail to wreak itself also in the general history; I mean “the foolish face of praise,” the forced smile which we put on in company where we do not feel at ease, in answer to conversation which does not interest us. The muscles, not spontaneously moved but moved by a low usurping wilfulness, grow tight about the outline of the face, with the most disagreeable sensation.”


Don’t sacrifice yourself to become one of the herd.

The last thing that I want to be is a spokesman for and follower of something that I don’t believe in, simply because being a part of a tribe gives me comfort. I want to know and live the truth, in whatever situation I find myself, and stand for that.

But I continue to go over “Self-Reliance” with the idea (hope?) that Emerson isn’t saying that we shouldn’t learn from others, and even adopt their position as our own, as long as it vibrates in harmony with our iron string. For example, I’ve picked up things from the Stoics, from the Buddhists, from the Christians, from the 12-Steppers, from ACT/CBT/REBT, even from Phil Stutz and Barry Michaels and their Tools (despite their endorsements from Gwyneth (buy useless stuff from me and stick them in your vagina) Paltrow and Dr. (Really??? Still “Doctor”???) Oz). The number of places I’ve learned the truth, the Truth, and what works for me (those can be three completely different things) from is pretty darn long.

Allowing myself to do this is a much better way to live. I didn’t always. When I realized that the Stoics got a lot of stuff right, I couldn’t allow them to be wrong about anything. Christians expressing love? Then I had to adopt their belief in the Resurrection. My AA sponsor says that I have to believe in God to get and stay sober? Then drop the rationality and believe.

It’s each person’s responsibility to find the best way for them to live. We can learn from others, but don’t be so quick to drink all of their Flavor Aid. Stick with the healthier stuff they offer.

“If any man is able to convince me and show me that I do not think or act right, I will gladly change; for I seek the truth, by which no man was ever injured. But he is injured who abides in his error and ignorance.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book VI

 

Fuck (most of) ‘Em : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 012

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


“What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”


Everyone is going to have an opinion about the way you are living.

Fuck (most of) ’em. Learning from those whose opinion you value is a good thing – but 99% of the time, what others think of how you live is worthless.

Your decisions on how to live are the only ones that ultimately matter, because you are the only one who has to live your life.

But as Emerson says, you have to live it – all the time. It’s easy to live it in private, or when we are in a position where we don’t have to actually *do* anything. I’m usually guilty of this laying in bed at night. Tomorrow once the alarm goes off I’m gonna jump out of bed, meditate, write, be kind to others throughout the day, do my best at work… and bam! The alarm goes off and the first thing I do is open up Facebook or Twitter on my phone, end up not having time to meditate or write, scream at people from my car on the way to work, and do a shitty job because for some damn reason (I wonder what it could be???) I’m tired, unmotivated, angry, and depressed (piece of crap didn’t do what he said he’s do AGAIN!).

But one of my other personal values is improvement. Not the end goal (there is no end goal), but progress toward it. It’s a process, one I’m willing to go through, fail at, and go through again.