Individualism & Society
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, from “Self-Reliance”
I try hard to live by this philosophy. Not because I wish to be great, but because I hope to understand myself better – even if this means that I will often be misunderstood.
Individualism is hard. Humanity pines for conformity, for consistency, for little boxes to check people off with and put one another into. Little cages.
But individualism is also what has pulled us up from the mud, from the chains of class and sexism and institutional barriers to prosperity and culture. In all our weirdness, we are all still equals – or at least we strive to be.
Despite our individualism we are all still connected, but now in more meaningful and profound and important ways than before. Because we choose to be, because we come at it from a position of strength. This doesn’t make living in society any easier, but who said that easy was ever the point?
I don’t believe in denial of the self. I think we should learn to understand our selves in order to forget, like lines in a play or tying knots.