In today’s world, which is captivated by social media, people have a tendency to conform to those around them. Celebrities are idolized, causing people to put themselves down at the sight of celebrities’ seemingly perfect lives. To cope with these emotions, people often attempt to model the lives of those whom they admire. While having some type of role model does not present problems, it is when people become so involved with imitating the lives of others that they lose sight of their own feelings and opinions that obstacles are created. Ever since the early 1800s, the philosophies of Transcendentalism have been preached. These philosophies establish the necessity of individuality, something that is slowly being forgotten about by society. By reflecting on the work of Transcendentalist thinkers, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, independent thinking will have the capacity to be rekindled, thus reducing conformity and strengthening authenticity in individuals.
Transcendentalist thinkers Ralph Wado Emerson and Henry David Thoreau celebrate the individual, promoting self-reliance and independent action among men. Emerson, who became known as the father of transcendentalism, wrote intellectual essays and important speeches that most clearly conveyed the universal truths of transcendentalism. Man’s success is ultimately the reward of individual thought, not the result of other’s efforts. In his speech, “The American Scholar,” Emerson encourages the individualism of man, expressing that “the world is nothing the man is all” (Emerson). In order to flourish, Emerson states that men must be nonconformists and must act upon their own personal ideas. In addition, Emerson empowers authenticity, which is ultimately reliant on man’s relationship with nature and reflection on the past, commending the study of nature to know oneself and the creation of books to acquire truth. The thoughts and writings of Emerson later inspired future transcendentalists. Henry David Thoreau became friends with and a student of Emerson and was deeply influenced by his thinking regarding the celebration of man. In addition to Emerson’s words, Thoreau’s writings acknowledge the relationship between man and government and promote the action of man. Thoreau argues for disobedience to an unjust government, which he believes is obtained by self-reliance. He asks that “every man make known what kind of government would command his respect” in order to obtain it (Thoreau). Over one hundred years before John F. Kennedey’s inaugural address, Thoreau urges the same idea that it is not about what the government can do for you, but what you can do for the government. He asserts that “we should be men first and subjects after,” fulfilling our lives as individuals before conforming to the laws of the government (Thoreau). He believes that individual thought and action are necessary to achieve an ideal government. Unfortunately, many of these essential philosophies of transcendentalism have been lost in the noise of society, and it is important to channel one’s inner self to experience the triumphs of life.
Conforming to societal norms hinders a person’s expression of self, as their individuality is corrupted by mirroring what is accepted by society. Especially in the most unprecedented times, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, it is easy to lose sight of oneself in the surrounding chaos. In lockdown, people found themselves having exceptionally lax schedules, not focusing on the important things they once centered their lives upon. In times like these, it is most important to reflect on one’s inner self and voice one’s opinions on certain matters to continue to flourish. This disordered world is in need of healing, and it is society’s job to not follow those around them, but instead to enhance their individual thinking in order to open dialogue for solutions. If everyone were to go back in time to understand and reflect on what the Transcendentalist thinkers were trying to say, this world would be more innovative and open to change, necessities for restoration and evolution. Thus, the Transcendentalist promotion of self-reliance is important to consider at all times, especially those that are most difficult, in order to experience life at its fullest potential.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “The American Scholar.” 1837.
Thoreau, Henry David. “Civil Disobedience.” 1849.Tags: individuality RHS