How is Emerson's "Self-Reliance" useful in our contemporary setting?

Emerson's "Self-Reliance" is useful in our contemporary setting because it attacks mindless conformity. This is still a problem in our society, and we can still benefit from advice to follow our own inner light.

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Emerson's "Self-Reliance" pushes back against conformity, and as such, it is relevant for our own times. Now, as in the nineteenth century, young people are under a great deal of pressure to conform to social norms that value materialism and to follow the lead of family and social groups. This can have negative effects. For example, it can discourage someone whose family does not pursue higher education from seeking that path themselves, even if the inner "string" in their soul "vibrates" to that idea. Likewise, a person from a family of lawyers or MBAs may feel a great deal of pressure to follow in those footsteps, especially with financial security feeling precarious, but may know in his or her heart that this is not their calling.

Therefore, we can afford to rehear Emerson's words about looking within to find a path and trusting the guidance of our own inner light. As Emerson points out, the people who had the biggest impact on the world are those who were not afraid to break away from conventional thinking or a conventional life. He cites people such as Jesus, Luther, Galileo, and Newton as path breakers who followed their own inner promptings and helped change the world.

Societies don't always value what is truly most important or know what they most need until someone has the courage to show them the way. Therefore, we can find value in the concept that

Whoso would be a man [fully human] must be a nonconformist.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
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