Self-Reliance Questions and Answers
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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What does Emerson mean by self-reliance? What are Emerson's major points?

By “self-reliance,” Emerson means trusting one’s conscience and maintaining one’s personal integrity, especially in the face of social pressure to follow the patterns set by others.

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In his essay on “self-reliance,” Ralph Waldo Emerson emphasizes the importance of trusting one’s own conscience; only by doing so can one realistically expect to maintaining one’s personal integrity. Everyone is constantly faced by social pressures to conform and follow a path that other people have established. While this option may seem easier or cause one less inner anguish, unthinking adherence to other people’s ideas and expectations will rarely yield good results.

Emerson connects the genius and greatness of celebrated individuals to the ways that ordinary people can and should live. Genius is not a rare quality exclusive to few but is within the grasp of everyone who lives an authentic life. To Emerson, the only thing that is sacred is “the integrity of your own mind.” Those who routinely allow their conduct to be swayed by others’ opinions and rules are committing a kind of moral suicide. Constant conformity has lasting damage as it erodes one’s ability to think...

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