A Q&A with Ralph Waldo Emerson
For nearly 200 years, Ralph Waldo Emerson's Self-Reliance has been the preeminent book on independence, non-conformity, and trusting oneself. At The Domino Project, we believe that Emerson's words are just as relevant today as they were in 1841. Read on:
The Domino Project: There has been much talk of the failing education system in America, and even new groundbreaking movies such as Waiting for Superman and Race to Nowhere documenting these failings. Do you have any suggestions on how we fix this broken system?
Ralph Waldo Emerson, in Self-Reliance: The intellect is vagabond, and our system of education fosters restlessness. Our minds travel when our bodies are forced to stay at home. We imitate; and what is imitation but the travelling of the mind?
Question: Society's quick pace makes it hard to focus and concentrate. What can one to do achieve serenity today?
Emerson: Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.
Question: Many in society are afraid of of being themselves and speaking authentically. Why do you think that is?
Emerson: Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say ‘I think,’ ‘I am,’ but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose. These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence.
Question: What is the key to happiness with one's work and occupation?
Emerson: A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace. Do your work, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself. Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing.
Question: There are so many popular opinions in society today. How should we know whom to listen to?
Emerson: Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.
Question: What advice do you have for creators and artists who don't think they create original work?
Emerson: 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. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him.
About the Author
There are few people as quoted and quotable as Ralph Waldo Emerson, founder of the transcendental movement and author of classic essays as Self-Reliance, Nature, and The American Scholar. Emerson began his career as a Unitarian minister and later put those oratory skills to move us toward a better society. More remains written on him than by him. This special collection has many contributors, revealing the range of people under his influence. On the day of this book’s publication, May 25, 2011, Emerson would have been 208.