According to Emerson in "Self-Reliance," why should people trust themselves?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As a Transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson firmly believed in the merits of individualism and the power of intuition. In his essay, "Self-Reliance," he explains, 

To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men—that is genius.

Moreover, Emerson holds that each individual is in possession of a genius unique to him, but it is a genius that can only be revealed when the individual has the fortitude to trust his own ideas, attitudes, and propensities despite pressures from society.  For  society is in a "conspiracy" against the individual and would have him follow conventional thought and conform.

Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.....Self-reliance is its aversion.

Clearly, Emerson's mantra of "trust thyself" prevails throughout his essay. He states that in every great work of art people recognize their own rejected thoughts as they return to them "with a certain alienated majesty" now that they are in art.  Thus, the existence and value attributed to the work of art teaches individuals that they must abide by their own spontaneous ideas--their "genius"--and not discard them, despite "the whole cry of voices on the other side," the disapproval of society. Emerson further urges, 

Whoso would be a man must be a non-conformist....Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind....Nothing can bring you peace but yourself [and] the triumph of your principles.

Above all, individuals must believe in their powers of intuition and be themselves, trusting in their own genius, for to do so is to have integrity and peace.

 

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