What does Emerson believe is the individual's responsibility to society in the essay "Self-Reliance"?

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missy575 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The individual's responsibility to society is to remain the individual. The individual must be a nonconformist and take care of himself. Although in society it is easy to conform, and in fact society may call man to conform, but his responsibility to society is to refrain from that:

The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.

Emerson encourages his readers to be able to think for themselves. People should not just accept circumstances or what they are told, but should question and test truths distributed to them before acceptance.

Emerson specifically points out that individuals should "trust thyself". This is a specific call to value one's own thought and self-worth. When individuals follow through with this responsibility, society will only become better because we will recoup the best of everyone, not just the mediocre that unites us.


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