“Trust thyself.” That’s the advice Ralph Waldo Emerson offered in his essay on self reliance. Only the individual is the arbiter of truth. Follow your own heart and make your own decisions. Resist conforming to society’s expectations.
“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men—that is genius,’’ he wrote in part.
“Self-Reliance” is the classic statement of American individualism. Emerson penned this essay in 1841. Do Americans today, now a century and a half later, still embrace his ideas? Do you?
Consider these statements. To what extent do you agree or disagree with them?
Statement 1: “I would rather depend on myself than on others.”
Statement 2:“I rely on myself most of the time.”
Here’s what Americans say in my latest survey on values in March: More than eight of ten Americans agree with each of these statements.
It’s remarkable how strong individualism is among Americans. Formal education, for example, doesn’t make a difference: Americans with a high school education (or less) are just as likely to agree with these two statements as those with a college or even a graduate degree. Vast differences in income don’t matter. Americans from different regions of the country are just as likely to agree with these statements. Differences in race or religion don’t matter. The wisdom of “trust thyself” is something on which even liberals and conservatives agree.
How about you? Do you rely on yourself most of the time?
Would you rather depend on yourself than on others?
Do you trust yourself?
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