self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson Misunderstood Greatness The quote that most provoked thought and emotion from withinme comes from the essay “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Tobe great is to be misunderstood” was used by Emerson to explain thelagging growth of the conception of ideas and thoughts of hisgeneration. Original and novel ideas were scorned by conservativeswho believed the best method for learning was by repetition andmemorization of proven classics written by previous generations.The continuing timelessness of his quote is still in effect todayas the scientific community has evolved to accept unaccustomedtheories, yet encounters difficulty when relating to the public newand extreme ideas that rebut the system. In history, the results of individualism has been spread worldwide. Important leaders, thinkers, and philosophers with radicalideas in virgin areas of research were making significant findsrapidly. Yet progress was slowed by short-sighted men who failed tosee greatness. Aberham Lincoln was a revolutionary in his time with his viewson slavery and forgiveness of the South. Yet his death was theresult of one man’s refusal to accept what was once a proud andrich land reduced to tatters- left to ruin because of her failureto accept civil reform. Herman Melville’s work in Moby Dick was considered a classic,
yet Melville died a figure with lost prestige, poor and unaccepted.When he was laid to rest in 1891, he was remembered only as theauthor of entertaining novels of the South Seas. It was not until1920s when his place in America’s foremost writers was assured. Hisworks are now great masterpieces of emotion that were misunderstoodwhile he was still alive. Another important example is democracy. In medieval times,monarchies and kingdoms ruled the land. Today, the monarch ismerely a figurehead behind the power of democracy. At the birth ofthe democratic rise of the United States of America, the colonistswere thought of as upstart fools- dreamers believing theimpossible. English royalists were aghast at the indignation of thecolonies to separate from England and form their own country. Inpresent day, the United States is the sole world power, a greatcountry born out of dreams. “Self-Reliance” expressed the need for creative thinking.Society during Emerson’s era resisted reform and scorned thereformer. Emerson saw individualism in direct conflict withsociety. “The effect of society,” he thought,” was not tostrengthen the individual, but to breed conformity and fear.”Although he often criticized society, he stressed more importantly the openness of the individual through the soul. The quote ” To begreat is to be misunderstood” reflected upon the lack of acceptanceof new thought and theory during his time.