Thursday, September 26, 2013

Ralph Waldo Emerson on The Self

It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.  – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson’s writings are a means of empowering individuals to escape from the binds of social, religious, and educational institutions. As Emerson says, for most persons, the easy path to take in life is to ignore individualism and follow in the footsteps of the majority.  It is only in the realms of isolation from others that individuals can exercise their individuality.  Both conforming and individuality in isolation are paths taken by cowards, individuals who do not have the courage to neither go on the journey to self-realization nor to live according to their own ideals rather than the rules set by society.
In the Sikh religious scriptures, there are several references made to one metaphor: live in this world as a lotus flower lives in the pond.  In accordance with Emerson’s ideas, this metaphor can be used to define how Emerson encourages individuals to live their lives.  Logically speaking, it is impossible for anybody to survive in complete isolation from society.  Therefore, in order to retain ones distinctive thought and lifestyle, one must really learn to live like a lotus flower in a pond.  Ponds are often associated with impurity, an accumulation of dirty water, muck, and slime.  A pond is similar to society in that it makes it impossible for its residents to retain their individual, pure, immaculate identities.  In contrast, a lotus remains immaculate and beautiful even in the midst of the great accumulations of muck. 

The greatest shortcoming of contemporary society is that even with the passage of time and a series of constant lessons, has failed to clear itself of the muck created by institutions that restrict self-realization.  Because society and its individuals have failed to free themselves of institutional shackles, Emerson’s writings are still valuable learning tools for all who have lost their paths to self-discovery.  Even after centuries, every reader of Emerson can learn to rejuvenate their drive for living as individuals in society rather than complying with its majority’s expectations or isolating oneself to be oneself.