What does Emerson say happens to us as we mature?

Quick answer:

To Emerson, maturation is the development of mental and emotional faculties that allow a person to be truly independent. This includes the ability to not conform just for the sake of being consistent, but to be open to change, experience, and new ideas.

Expert Answers

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Emerson states that

"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 . . ."

When Emerson uses the word "education," he is not referring to literal schooling; he is discussing maturation.  The whole premise of Self-Reliance is non-conformity.  Thus, when a person truly has a sense of who he is and has developed mentally and emotionally, he will realize that he alone is responsible for his thoughts, actions, and influence.  He cannot wish that he is someone else.  He cannot mold himself into others' ideas of what a human should be. 

Along with this idea of "being your own person," Emerson stresses that that might mean believing one thing today and something different tomorrow (relative truth).  Above all else, according to Emerson, one must not be consistent just to be consistent.  He must be open to change and further development.  He must not allow his actions to be based on tradition. Emerson supports his definition of maturation as a move toward non-conformity by listing examples of earlier non-conformists.  He writes,

"Is it so bad to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood. . . ."

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