What is the greatest risk faced by a character who is going against the community?Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In his famous essay, "Self-Reliance," Ralph Waldo Emerson declares that the greatest risk faced by a person who goes against the community, the man who is an individual, is that he will be misunderstood. "For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure,’’ Emerson writes.  Society is in a "conspiracy" to make individuals conform, acting and thinking as others do. Thus, it is easier for the person to go along with the opinion of the majority or it is easier to live in solitude than it is to maintain one's independence in the midst "of the crowd" of society.

Maintaining one's own thoughts in society, however, makes a person great, Emerson further declares. And, he adds, "To be great is to be misunderstood." All great minds have been misunderstood; men such as Pythagoras, socrates, Jesus, Copernicus, Galileo and Newton, for instance, have had society condemn them.  But, Emerson contends, a man must trust himself in all things and be truthful to all. For, as Emerson states in another essay on "Education," the individual is the "highest progeny of the Over-Soul," the self-sufficing universal force. He communicates with this divine force, not with society.



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