There Is A Time In Every Man's Education

Explain the following quote:  "There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide."

Asked on by hmalik

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jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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This quote is from Emerson's "Self-Reliance," and it's about the importance of originality and trusting one's own instincts in the process of becoming educated. The person who truly wants to become educated does not try to imitate others or envy others; instead, as Emerson writes, trying to be like others is ignorant, as it means that the person has not realized that true greatness lies in cultivating what is unique about oneself. Imitating others only results in failure, what Emerson calls "suicide," as it means that a person has not realized and cultivated what is great in oneself. One is educated when one realizes that he or she has particular talents and a uniqueness that no one else possesses. Emerson writes that "The power which resides in him is new in nature," which means that each person has a special quality that he or she must develop to reach greatness, and to imitate others would prevent the process of cultivating one's particular genius.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The quote strikes at several ideas that are strongly linked to Emerson.  The first of which is that individuals end up doing much better when they forge their own path.  This notion of individualism and breaking away from a socially conformist idea of the good is central to Emerson's thesis and his basic ideas.  For Emerson, this is something that cannot be immediately enforced or imposed, but rather has to be accepted.  It is here where there is a sense of the gradual enlightened individual in Emerson's thought.  This "time" is something that cannot be hastened, but rather embraced and accepted.  Yet, once this "time" does come about, its illumination fully experienced, Emerson argues that there is little turning from it.  This "conviction" is something that becomes the basis of all individuals.  The idea that "envy is ignorance" arises from this revelation, in that individuals cannot covet another's path or another's trappings.  For Emerson, true knowledge or understanding is that one need not be concerned with others, but rather is animated by one's own sense of identity in remaining an individual, apart from the crowd or herd that imitates one another.  Accordingly, Emerson argues that to become a part of this mass is a slower and more insidious form of death.  Happiness can only be embraced when individuals revere it from their own subjective experience and not in the shadows of others'.


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