Self-Reliance Questions and Answers
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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What does Emerson mean when he writes the aphorism “envy is ignorance, imitation is suicide”?

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In this essay, Emerson encourages each person to live by their own principles. He exhorts the readers to rely on themselves for their ideas and values and goals, rather than listening to what other people say they should think, value, or strive for. The person who is self-reliant is one who is, ultimately, more mature and happy and satisfied with life than one who fails to listen to themselves and to learn what makes them unique and worthy.

Thus, Emerson says,

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.

In other words, this realization only comes once one has reached a certain level of maturity: when we envy another person, we remain in ignorance of ourselves and what we...

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dlynnmap | Student

"Envy is ignorance, imitation is suicide," is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay, "Self-Reliance, which was published in 1841.

This means that you should be your own person, be yourself, and be noteworthy. Know your own strengths and weaknesses, which make you unique and original and use these to become interesting, remarkable, and significant.

Do not look at other people and what they have. More importantly, do not compare yourself with other people, because that's when envy sets in. When you are envious of other people, of what they are, what they have, and what they have accomplished, you are revealing your ignorance of yourself, your strengths, and your uniqueness.

When you try to imitate other persons, you are denying and dismissing your own identity and your own person. The more you imitate others, the more your own person and uniqueness disappears, until you are unable to know who you really are anymore.

Instead, build up on your own unique traits and talents, build up on your strengths and chart your own path. There are no limits to what you can achieve. They are only limited by your own fears, hesitation, and self-doubt. Do not pay attention to what other people say about you. Choose who you want to be and do it.