Observations on Emerson's Self-Reliance

Observations on Emerson's Self-Reliance

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Observations on Self-Reliance

"Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles ." This quotation forms the closing two lines of Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self Reliance". I am greatly enlightened by his ideas in this article. "Trust thyself" was his advice and many Americans listened. They not only listened in Emerson's lifetime, but his individualistic concepts have reverberated up to the present time. After reading the ideas expressed in "Self-Reliance", I have come to believe that self-reliance is the most important factor in my life.

Emerson believes that a man should not be what he is not. "There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide." If a man is envious of other people, he will ignore all merits of himself. If a man imitates other people, he will lose his identity - like suicide. It is common to find a woman like me envious of other people. I am jealous if a girl in the class is more beautiful than I. I am jealous if a classmate gets a higher score on tests. I am jealous if my neighbor has a better car. But as I always find out, when I praise the girl, people will say "you are beautiful, too"; when I praise the classmate, people will say "remember you got a higher score last time"; when I praise the car of the neighbor, people will say "he spent money that he did not have". There is always a "the better side" of myself, which I cannot see because it is hindered by my own jealousy. Imitation is the result of jealousy.

When I was in high school, I tried to imitate a girl in my class because I thought she was pretty cool. I bought the same dress, the same shoes, had the same hair style, and tried to act the same way. After one month, I was considered the least cool person in the class. I did not get what I wanted, but instead, lost what I had already had. I was born in a Christian Chinese family in Beijing, China. Under the strict rules of my mother, I began learning piano and Kung-fu when I was six, and many other things other children did not learn. From then on, I was always told to be the best, and I always thought I was the best.

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Suddenly, a failure I experienced after high school shattered all my dreams. Unlike here in the States, all graduates from high school in China have to attend three days of generalized exams in order to get into college. These exams are given only once each year, and each student's fate is determined in these days. Unfortunately, I failed the exam. I was not able to get into any of the colleges. I failed my parents and myself. After that, I lost all confidence in myself. One year later, I came to the States. Emerson states that "none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried." A person should at least try before giving up. That's what I did in my first job in the States, as a cashier in a restaurant. At the beginning, I decided to work in restaurants, because I thought that was the easiest job. As I found out, experience was required at all the restaurants to which I had applied. Fortunately, I got a chance to work as a cashier in a restaurant. I hesitated for three weeks because I had never been a cashier, or anything like it in my life before. Anyway, I decided to try my best, and it turned out to be a good experience. I kept the job, earned some money, made many friends, and most important of all, I found my confidence again. "A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best." I tried my best and did get the blessing from God. This sparked my new life in Chabot College about three years ago. However, despite all the English classes I had taken in high school, it was nearly impossible to fully understand what the teacher said in the class during the first semester. I was in a crisis again. However, this time, I was not so discouraged as before, because I knew that I was trying my best for myself, to satisfy myself. I had confidence in myself. With that in mind, I tried and did pretty well in all of my classes. "What I must do is all that concerns me, not what people think." I wanted to get into college again not because it was my parents' or any other's hope. I believed that I needed the knowledge to make myself better. I studied very hard during those three years, receiving straight "A"'s in all the courses I took. As a student in a community college, I could transfer either to UC-Berkeley or a state university like Cal-State Hayward, which would be a lot easier. I was still not sure which I should choose before I read "Self-Reliance", because everybody says the chances of getting into Berkeley are very slim.

Now I have made up my mind to go for Berkeley, even though most of my classmates have decided to go for a state university. I do not care what they say about me. They make their own decisions and I make mine. While I have confidence in myself, I will never "have an ambition out of all proportion of my practical force". I am the best person to discover myself, knowing what I have and what I do not , what I can do and what I cannot. I will always do that which is assigned to me; I will not hope too much or dare too much. Where do I want to go? I am not sure. The "I" inside myself is changing every day, every hour, every second, every moment. I love the old saying, "the most delightful and enjoyable part of a journey is not the destination, but the journey itself". Once I reach the destination, I will have a new destination, another adventure. Most important of all, I rely only on myself on these journeys. I will be alone, but I will not feel lonely, because "I must be myself". Thus they will be my journeys, not anyone else's. I will never sacrifice my life, my belongings and my feelings to others; I will never contribute myself to the society, because "Society never advances"; I will be honest to myself and everybody, never hiding my feelings and aversions. I will have peace in myself and only I can assure that. What do I need to accomplish my goals and finish my journeys to meet my destiny? Self-Reliance is the answer. Self-Reliance will be in all aspects of my life, religion, education and pursuits. In my religion, I will have my own God, who can be reached with my own heart, instead of a priest or a relative. I will never pray for the benefit of myself, like a car, a house, or a fortune. I will never give out my sympathy to anyone who does not need it because a real self-helping person will never accept love and sympathy from others. In my education, I will start learning from where I am. I will finish my current goal -- become a student at UC-Berkeley. In my pursuits, I will never imitate others. I will never rely on "Fortunes", because nothing outside myself could bring me happiness and joy. My ultimate goal, though I may never reach it, is to try to live "in the moment"; I will have hundreds of chances for myself. There will be no consistency in my life if you look closely, but it will be a straight line if you see it from a distance, a straight line to my destiny.

"Self-Reliance" is a great article to me, though it was written more than a hundred years ago. It explains some of my past experiences, how I ignored myself by imitating others, how I tried my best and succeeded on my first job, and how I regained my self-confidence. It tells me that I should never give up before I try, I should never imitate others and lose myself. Moreover, it also shows me a brand new side of my life. I should trust myself and believe in my own thoughts, instead of caring about what others do. I should live a happy life according to my free will. Life will educate and nourish me. I should seek the peace and joy inside myself. "To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, -- that is genius." I will strive for my own faith and my own goals, through self-reliance. 
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