Emerson believes that society affects what people value because it removes the individual's uniqueness by encouraging conformity.
In "Self-Reliance," Emerson argues that society wants people to conform. Emerson believes this social pressure must be challenged because it affects what we value. In our desire to conform, or to be like everyone else, Emerson believes that we end up valuing what everyone else values. In emphasizing a socially conditioned set of values, the individual loses part of their voice. Emerson goes as far as saying that conformity makes human beings engage in a form of deceitful behavior:
This conformity makes them not false in a few particulars, authors of a few lies, but false in all particulars. Their every truth is not quite true. Their two is not the real two, their four not the real four; so that every word they say chagrins us, and we know not where to begin to set them right.
Conformity affects our values because we end up emphasizing ideas that are not our own. This is why Emerson feels that conformity makes us "false" and "not quite true."
Emerson believes that conforming to social standards affects what people value because we embrace the lowest common denominator. We no longer place primacy on our own uniqueness when we conform. We end up valuing "the hobgoblin of little minds." Our chance of being "a great soul" is thwarted. Emerson believes that we become lesser when we see ourselves through society's eyes. When we embrace conformity, society has affected what we value.
As a result, Emerson believes that "genius" is when we reject conformist notions of the good: "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.’’ For Emerson, the truly educated individual understands that rejection of what society values is the differentiation point between living for oneself and living for others:
There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.
Emerson feels that to be great means that we value our own identity and thoughts. To do this means to move away from conformity. It means pushing back against the pressure of what society values and valorize our own voice.