What are the requisites for the quality of self-reliance in Emerson's "Self-Reliance"?

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main requisite for self-reliance is to trust yourself. One must be willing to avoid conformity and avoid subscribing automatically to social traditions and institutions. A self-reliant person trusts his/her own inner voice and is not afraid to speak and act according to that inner consciousness, even if that means challenging others' fixed notions of acceptable behavior and thought. This essay is Emerson's manifesto in favor of individualism. He is simply establishing a mantra of how to be a genuine individual and this requires a willingness to trust one's self and a willingness to go against tradition and/or popular thinking. 

Emerson believed that when an individual is truly genuine, he/she will do what God intended. The reason is that Emerson believed that each person was a unique individual as deemed by God. Another requisite is for the individual to realize his/her uniqueness. Therefore, embracing one's individuality is not selfish; it is righteous. 

As Emerson implored the individual to avoid conforming to society's traditions, he also encouraged the individual to be willing to divert from his/her own personal past decisions and beliefs if the situation calls for it. In other words, if I have been a lifelong democrat, I should be willing to entertain other forms of government as situations arise. I shouldn't become mired and fixed in a frozen set of beliefs. 

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. 

Since Emerson believes that genuine individualism, genuine self-reliance, is divinely unique in each person, he encourages spontaneity, instinct, and a trust in intuition. 

Emerson encourages men to be original. Originality is another requisite. Thus, they should trust their instincts and what they've learned through reason and introspection. A man/person should state his thoughts with confidence rather than hide behind the words of some historical thinker. That is imitation and it is a kind of conformity. 

Man is timid and apologetic. He is no longer upright. He dares not say 'I think,' 'I am,' but quotes some saint or sage. 

The self-reliant individual should therefore, not rely on a way of thinking or a path previously established by some one else, some institutional system of thought, nor even his/her own past paths: 

When good is near you, when you have life yourself,--it is not by any known or appointed way; you shall not discern the foot-prints of any other; you shall not see the face of man; you shall not hear any name;--the way, the thought, the good shall be wholly strange and new. 

So, even when an individual determines a "good" course of action (as universal and unchanging as "good" seems to mean), the self-reliant individual will find/create/discover a new method of achieving such goodness. This is the uniqueness, self-trust, and originality Emerson believes the self-reliant person expresses.