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The main ideas and lessons from Emerson's "Self-Reliance."


Emerson's "Self-Reliance" emphasizes the importance of individual intuition and judgment over societal expectations. It advocates for self-trust, nonconformity, and independence, encouraging readers to avoid imitation and false consistency. Emerson teaches that true greatness comes from being true to oneself and that personal integrity leads to a fulfilling and authentic life.

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What is the main idea of "Self-Reliance"?

The most important idea in "Self-Reliance" is that of individualism. Emerson emphasizes that it is one's primary duty to trust one's own instincts, express oneself, and give to the world the gifts and perspective that one is unique in possessing.

Emerson supports this idea with numerous principles and examples. He says that the great men of history who are widely imitated were never themselves imitators. Moses, Plato, and Milton were not guided by tradition nor by the opinions of those around them; instead, they relied on themselves and said exactly what they thought.

One of Emerson's guiding principles in the essay is that individuals should look after their own development rather than embarking on programs of social reform. Virtue resides in the individual, and individuals should draw it out of themselves.

Emerson also warns against wanting to be—or be seen to be—consistent. He believes this desire will lead to conformity. One should refuse to be influenced by what others think and what one used to think oneself. The famous phrase "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" expresses Emerson's view that consistency is the enemy of development and improvement.

Finally, Emerson says that one should not pay much attention to external events but should always remain true to one's own conscience and principles.

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What are the four main ideas of "Self-Reliance"?

"Self-Reliance" by Ralph Waldo Emerson is an essay that stresses the importance of knowing who you are and not letting outside sources influence you. Here are its four main ideas:

"Trust thyself": This is some of Emerson's most fervent advice. He wants readers to trust their inner voice that tells them the difference between right and wrong—instead of listening to others who might try to decide these things for them. "With the exercise of self-trust," he writes, "new powers shall appear." Not only will a person gain peace within themselves, but they will also make society better as a result.

What is true for you is true for the world: To take the first idea further, Emerson states that listening to your own inner voice is like listening to the voice of the world. He says that "genius" is believing that "what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men." Believing that your own beliefs are the highest form of truth will give you confidence and allow you to fully believe in yourself, which will then change the world as a whole.

Don't conform: According to Emerson, there is nothing worse than conforming to someone else's ideas. One should not listen to the church's ideals or give in to the pressure of society. One should always stay true to one's self and one's own beliefs. In this case, Emerson believes that individual identity is more important than society as a whole.

Divine influence: While the whole idea of the essay is that you should be reliant on yourself as an individual (and that you shouldn't rely on the church to tell you what to think), Emerson also makes the point that God is within the individual. One should trust their inner thoughts and beliefs because they were put there by a divine power, and people should focus on developing, understanding, and relying on these ideas with confidence: "God will not have his work made manifest by cowards."

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What are four things Emerson says we all learn in 'Self-Reliance'?

Emerson says that during the course of one's education, everyone learns the following four things.

First, envy is ignorance. This means that to envy the talents of another is to ignore and neglect one's own talents.

Second, imitation is suicide. This point builds on the first. One has unique talents and views which no one else can bring to the world. To copy someone else instead of expressing oneself is to waste one's existence.

Third, one must take oneself for better or for worse. This does not mean that self-improvement is impossible or contrary to the spirit of self-reliance. However, attempts to improve oneself can only be based on an honest assessment of who one really is and what one can do to improve oneself. This can be accomplished through influence but not through imitation.

Fourth, one can achieve nothing except through the use of one's own abilities. Emerson expresses this thought in language that is at once more figurative and less aphoristic than that used in his other points, saying "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."

These points represent different facets of the central theme of Emerson's essay: the particular genius in every person and the individual's duty, both to humanity and oneself, to express it.

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List the four things that Emerson says everyone learns eventually in "Self-Reliance."

Early in "Self-Reliance," Emerson says all people eventually learn four basic truths: envy is ignorance, imitation is suicide, all must take themselves for who they are, and though the universe of filled with good things, people must work hard to cultivate these good things instead of expecting everything to work of its own accord.

Of the first, Emerson is saying that people need not envy others since each person is unique and possesses his or her own special skills. If one can embrace what makes one special, then there is no need to envy anyone else.

The second idea builds upon the first: if each person is special, then any attempt to be like others would kill what makes each individual unique in the first place. People throw away who they are to be like everyone else and this is, in Emerson's mind, a sort of suicide.

The third idea, that people should take themselves as they are, is saying that people should accept that they have shortcomings. They should know there are certain parts of themselves they cannot change. Emerson is not suggesting that people should never try to improve themselves when it comes to character flaws that can be improved, but when it comes to certain other traits, such as physical beauty or wit or such, people should accept their share or lack of to stave off envy.

The fourth item in Emerson's list stresses the need for people to live actively. In order to live a full life, one must work hard to achieve one's dreams. This is never handed to an individual on a silver platter.

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List the four things that Emerson says everyone learns eventually in "Self-Reliance."

Towards the end of the essay, Emerson summarises his views on self-reliance into four key points.

The first one is prayer. Emerson states that

Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view. It is the soliloquy of a beholding and jubilant soul.

Prayer that asks God for material things is not only wrong, but won't work. Prayer involving regret will only, over time, erode the soul.

Instead Emerson says we should forget the past and be self-helping. "For him all doors are flung wide."

The second point Emerson makes is that

The wise man stays at home, and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him from his house, or onto foreign lands he is at home still.

In other words, he is saying that people that travel to find something greater than what they have at home will be sorely disappointed. Most likely, they will move only away from who they are. Or, at best, wake up with the same "sad self, unrelenting, identical that I fled from." When one travels, they should always know who they are and where they came from. As Emerson states: "My giant goes with me wherever I go."

For his third point, Emerson says that even when we don't travel, our minds wander to foreign places. Our homes, for example, are often full of foreign and exotic objects. What we are doing is moving away from ourselves and imitating others.

If the American artist will study with hope and love . . . considering the climate, the soil, the length of the day, the wants of the people, the habit and form of the government, he will create a house in which all these will find themselves fitted, and taste and sentiment will be satisfied also.

For his fourth point, Emerson says society also looks abroad for its inspiration and as such "society never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains on the other."

As an example, he compares the white man to the New Zealand aboriginal. The aboriginal, he claims, is far stronger than the white man. While the white man needs a watch to tell the time, an aboriginal only needs the sun.

His note-books impair his memory; his libraries overload his wit; the insurance office increases the number of accidents; and maybe a question whether machinery does not encumber.

To prevail, Emerson, states that humans must put all these material goods and services to one side.

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List the four things that Emerson says everyone learns eventually in "Self-Reliance."

Ralph Waldon Emerson's "Self Reliance" is a pivotal essay, not only in terms of Emerson's output, but in regards to the transcendentalist movement and the foundations of American individualism. In this essay, Emerson argues that there are four things everybody learns eventually. These things are:

1. Envy is ignorance. By this, Emerson means that only those who do not properly understand the world are envious of other people. With understanding comes the realization that there is no need to be envious of what other people have or can do because each of us is an individual with our own skills and gifts.

2. Imitation is suicide. This is key—Emerson is saying that by imitating someone else, we are effectively destroying ourselves. Every moment that we spend pretending to be someone or something other than ourselves is a moment spent killing our own gifts and uniqueness.

3. Each person must "take himself for better, for worse." By this, Emerson means that everyone must realize eventually that he or she is as he or she is—there is nothing to be done about how we inherently are. Things such as intelligence level, attractiveness, and so on cannot be changed.

4. Even though the world is full of good things, no "nourishing corn"—no thing of value—can come to anyone except as a result of his own efforts ("toil") on the portion of the world that has been afforded to him by birthright.

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