The Wonderful Wisdom of Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson (RWE) has inspired many people. He was born in 1803 and died in 1882. RWE is known as an essayist, poet and wise man. His quotes on how to approach life and its difficulties as well as how to maintain positivity are used worldwide. They motivate us into keeping a happy outlook on life as well as to support us in times of sadness or quandary. RWE writes from the heart and is his own person.
He writes from places of interior depth and does not strive to be like anyone. In his texts and thoughts he promotes a nonconformist attitude but one based on a deep inner wisdom and universal hope. Ralph Waldo Emerson believed in calm and composure; he invigorates us with his words and begs us to reflect on our gentle life and to avoid adopting a brash attitude and or behaviour.

The quotes below are taken from his renowned essay “Self Reliance” We offer some reflections on each.

Peace.
‘Nothing can bring you peace but yourself’

This is so important as we often seek peace everywhere except in our own hearts and minds. It points out the golden key we all possess. That is the key of choice. We can see, own and use our power to change a world. If we don’t have peace we cannot expect it to turn up and knock on our door. It will flow from the choices we make.

Comparison
‘Roses make no reference to former roses or to better ones they simply exist’

RWE focuses on why it is important to
believe in yourself. He reiterates several times that comparing ourselves to
others is not a favourable approach to self belief. This analogy of flowers to
us is very potent as it tells us to be the amazing and wonder-filled people we
are. Comparing doesn’t develop us. Growing into who and what we are does. We are all different, by embracing our own diversity and uniqueness we can go forwards with our ideas and dreams in order to better ourselves and to improve humanity as well as making the most of this precious life. By continuously learning about how our fellow humans want to be treated and imagining ourselves as them we can give compassion and kindness and display ‘courageousness’ when we are required to do so. In life we do however tend to compare ourselves to others – humans generally like to fit in and not stand out from the crowd. This culture is very much challenged by RWE – to march to the beat of your own heart is difficult when you are working in a traditional setting where risk and planning take precedence so it is important to challenge our own behaviour and reflect on this at the end of every day. It is good practice to seek support from others who will listen but it is just as important to reflect as an individual

Life Calling.
‘Instead of a gong for dinner let us hear a whistle from the Spartan life’

This is a challenge to shake up our thinking. To lose traditional ways of thinking and acting. He is saying get back to basics in life and once in a while embrace simple pleasures – not focusing too much on material goods and truly value friendship.
Do not feel you have to conform to be like other people but be true to your own self. Do not the world and its gongs call us. Rather a life and spirit which is free and clear. Not to be slaves to routines and other externals. To find an inner compass that will guide and lead. This of course doesn’t replace gongs and timetables but rather gives them their proper place.

Making the Change
‘With consistency a great soul has nothing to do’

This is gently critical of monotony – a life that is the same every day is not challenging. Memories are made by days that bring emotions such as extreme happiness or deep sadness – an uneventful day is rarely recollected – imagine if each day of our lives was the same? We would become complacent – variety and the reflection of it aids us in our development
and resourcefulness. It changes us from learners to leaders. RWE is telling us that changes will happen. Some good and some bad. We all have them. Yet in them great souls can grow. If nothing changed nothing would grow. We would live as frozen statues not living beings of incredible possibility.

Being Misunderstood.
Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood?…….To be great is to be misunderstood.’

Here RWE calls us to a fundamental lesson. The greatest figures in history were misunderstood. If we do not we will be neither great nor misunderstood. To stand for something is to be opposed for something. This doesn’t mean we will not have many allies and friends. It does mean not everyone will cheer us on. Maybe we save ourselves a lot of stress and upset by knowing this.

Principles
‘Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.’ This is the last sentence of the essay. It tells us why integrity matters and how it marks us. If we hold to our good principles and values and walk that line we will have peace. It’s when we betray them that we lose peace. When we spoke of choice RWE orientates us to choosing the right. To choose to let our principles triumph in our work and exchanges. This is not always an
easy thing but a possible one.

Ralph Waldo Emerson has, like us all, his faults but his writings make us consider our place on earth and that has to be a good thing. Even in this is a liberating insight. All of us with our human flaws can offer something. He looks at the way we act, materialistic goods, kindness and adversity. He inspires us to consider ourselves, peace, principles and not following the crowd. RWE calls us to be the unique and special person we really are. It’s sad that sometimes people never hear that message when we
all need to.
That’s why this blog was born.

Jenny Clarke and John Walsh