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Emerson urges the reader to live by his instinct and listen to his intuition, "Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string." Don’t fear your original thoughts, trust them and live accordingly. Great men and artists appeal to us because of their creative nature, "In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts." If we don’t live according to our nature we are not men. Be bold and brave about your convictions, "And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not pinched into a corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but redeemers and benefactors, pious aspirants to be noble clay plastic under the Almighty effort, let us advance and advance on Chaos and the Dark." Recognize your nature whether it be good or bad, "No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature."
Emerson instructs the reader to avoid the common pitfalls that tend to hinder man's virtue. Emerson identifies consistency as being an enemy of the creative thinker, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds", "With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do". Emerson isn’t implying that we live erratically but that we should be introspective about our positions and ideals. We should not hold the same position simply because it is the one we have always taken. We shouldn’t be preoccupied with the impression we leave on others, "What I must do, is all that concerns me, not what the people think." According to Emerson, our inconsistency should be our testimony. Your inconsistent actions will explain to others what you are, "The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks."
Emerson also points out man's fear of being misunderstood. We often fail to present or discuss our original thoughts and ideas in fear of being misunderstood. Emerson asks, so what? Weren't all great innovators misunderstood? Emerson says: "Misunderstood! It is a right fools word. Is it so bad then to be misunderstood?
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According to Emerson, "imitation is suicide". When we imitate we cheat our nature. Imitation is not ours, "Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession." Emerson teaches us to rejoice in our uniqueness.
Emerson notes the advances of society. According to Emerson, society never makes true progress, "Society never truly advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains on the other." Advancement of society is a give and take relationship. When society makes progress, it regresses in other aspects, "The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. He is supported on crutches, but loses so much support of muscle. He has got a fine Geneva watch, but he has lost the skill to tell the hour by the sun."
To Emerson self-reliance is the embodiment of principle and integrity. The ability to trust your own thoughts and conviction is virtue, "Nothing can bring you peace of mind but the triumph of principles.”