Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Sit Down and Read
One Line Summary
Think for yourself
Self-Reliance is an essay containing the foundations of the philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson. It’s a short read, only around 14 or so pages. But its impact can be huge for anyone who resonates with it.
The essential message of this essay is think for yourself. I’ve been ranting about this since the beginning of starting this blog, but it can’t be understated. So I’m going to provide another angle to this issue in the form of Emerson.
Why it’s Awesome
Emerson understood more than most people the power of social conditioning. Social conditioning the idea that human beings obtain knowledge second-hand. Think about the fact that EVERY belief you have about the world has come from someone else, even something as simple as the belief that you’re a human being. This is, ultimately, something you’ve taken on faith.
Because your beliefs determine your quality of life, discrimination becomes the most valuable asset you can own. You have to learn to weigh things against your own intuition and then TRUST that intuition even if the entire world says you’re wrong.
The first time I had to experience this was with my old religious beliefs. I’ve talked about the fact that I was raised catholic, and to leave these beliefs was a real shocker. It pained me to go against what many people who I respected told me. But that started to open up something in me that is the subject of this essay; self-reliance. There is no outside intellectual authority. You, the person reading this right now, has everything they need to make the right decisions in life.
This is not a “feel-good” message. I’m not saying that you “should” believe in yourself. I’m not saying that “thinking for yourself” means you get everything right and never make mistakes. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t listen to other people.
I’m saying that, whether you know it or not, you’ve got it. Whatever you “should” do, you are 1000% capable of doing it.You can’t not do it.
Emerson writes that every person has a genius inside of them. That might be hard to believe when you’re shopping at Wal-Mart, but in a spiritual sense it’s undeniably true.
If you’ve been following along with my blog, you know my ideas around spirituality are kind of strange. In form, I see what everyone sees. But I’m starting to realize more and more that in terms of “essence”, “spirit”, “soul” or whatever you want to call it, everyone and everything is exactly the same. We are all One. Only a misunderstanding separates us.
Given that I’m right about this, this means that human beings at their core all have an ability to tap into something greater than themselves. In spiritual circles, they might call this your “higher self”. But it’s the same for everyone.
This means that it’s not “you” against the world. You’re self-reliant not because “you” have some amazing intelligence or ability, it’s because there’s something at work here more powerful than any of us.
Let me bring this into the concrete: Austin Kourakin, the author of this blog, can’t write this blog. Most of the time when I sit down to do one of these reviews, I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to write about. It’s just a blank. But I do it anyway because I know that as soon as I just start writing and get into the flow, ideas are just going to start coming out. I have no clue where they’re coming from. It’s like I’ve been plugged in.
So self-reliance or self-trust really isn’t about trusting “you”. Not the petty little “you” that gets scared all the time, wants to cling to old, outdated beliefs and feels the need to protect itself all the time. It’s about letting go of that in order to tap into and trust something higher.
If this sounds ridiculous, like I’m claiming “God” or whatever is helping me with my blog when people are starving all over the world, I realize this. But something else I’ve learned is that maybe humans don’t know best. Maybe our perspective is flawed and limited. Maybe pain and suffering aren’t inherently “bad” things.
Maybe things are actually exactly how they should be. Because they can’t be anything else.
Think about that. Once you or anyone else makes a choice, that choice could not have been differenet. We call it a “choice” for practical purposes, but the reality is that if you were put in the EXACT SAME SCENARIO, you’d do the same thing again. Because why not? If it made sense the first time, why wouldn’t it still make sense?
This is not an excuse for laziness or apathy either. I’m still going to try my best to do good in the world because it brings happiness to myself and others. And it just kind of makes sense to live in a happy world than an unhappy one. But I’m not coming from the perspective that things NEED to be “fixed”. That’s ego looking to create meaning out of meaninglessness.
It’s with a humbleness that I say “God” or my “higher self” is providing these words. If I was supposed to be dead, I would be. And nothing is going to stop that. It could happen tomorrow. The fact that I’m not just means I’ve got something to do while I’m here.
This self-reliance, this self-trust is an extremely difficult thing to do because it requires surrender. This has become a very dirty word in a modern culture. No one wants to surrender, everyone wants to win. But this is a very special type of surrender. It’s a surrender that actually gives you strength.
Like I said, Austin Kourakin can’t write this blog. He has nothing that interesting to say. But that part of me that’s part of everyone else can. By surrendering to this part, I actually become more. And so will you.
Let me make one final point: most of the people on this planet who you would consider the biggest badasses do this, even if they don’t realize it because they’ve never studied it. You don’t become, say, Arnold Schwarzenegger without self-reliance. He had to surrender to his dream of moving to America and becoming a professional bodybuilder. No one else would have believed in him.
Why Does It Suck
The only issue I have with this essay is that I wish it were longer. Emerson is amazing and I would have loved to see him expand more on some of these ideas.
The Wrap Up
This essay is really the foundation to all self-development work, beginner or advanced. It all requires self-reliance, and the higher up the ladder you climb, the more self-reliance is going to be required of you. Moving away from average results in life means leaving the safety of the heard. Less and less people are going to agree with you. Less and less people may understand you at all. But this is what is required to live an extraordinary life.
I love this essay. It’s beautifully written and filled with tons of wisdom. Recommended to everyone.