Self-Reliance is an essay written by American Transcendentalist philosopher and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson. It was first published in his 1841 collection, Essays: First Series. It contains the most solid statement of one of Emerson’s repeating themes, the need for each individual to avoid conformity and false consistency, and follow his or her own instincts and ideas.
In this essay, Emerson conveys his Transcendentalist philosophy and belief in self-reliance, an essential part of which is to trust in one’s present thoughts and impressions rather than those of other people or of one’s past self. This philosophy is exemplified in the quote: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Emerson stresses the need to believe one’s own thoughts, while actively searching one’s internal mind in order to capture the flash thought that may or may not come across. However, Emerson articulates that although one may have unlimited potential, few actually possess the confidence to develop their minds fully. Emerson then writes, “Trust yourself,” for God will not have his work made manifested by “cowards”. Immediately afterwards, he asserts that everyone has the innate tendency to express independent, genuine verdicts when young, but when young men become adults, Emerson argues, they will become, “clapped into jail by [their] consciousness.”
The essay states that, “To be great is to be misunderstood,” Emerson illustrates this by showing how enormously influential historical characters (Jesus Christ, Pythagoras, Copernicus) were fiercely opposed during their lifetimes, while time later demonstrated their genius.
Emerson also stresses originality, believing in one’s own genius and that creativity lives within all people. From this springs the quote: “Envy is ignorance, imitation is suicide.”
— Wikipedia, December 2007