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Custom “Self Reliance” Journal Response essay paper sample

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Emerson, a transcendentalist, often wrote about the importance of seeing and trusting for oneself unfiltered, and of perceiving and interpreting without the lens of ideology, elitism, secondhand experience and etcetera. This purpose echoes throughout “Self Reliance.” When Emerson states that “for nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure . . . and therefore a man must know how to estimate a sour face” (24), he is making a twofold statement about the nature of popular consciousness and social traditionalism. He is contemplating and characterizing the pain of being ridiculed, rejected, oppressed or punished by the conforming masses, who uphold and maintain traditional, socially accepted norms and despise nonconforming or dissenting ideas, behaviors, beliefs and etcetera. For the conformists (of which most of the world, in Emerson’s view, is comprised), any kind of change, unfamiliarity or threat to the established structure is punished; if not by literal means, then certainly, by unrelenting and alienating disproval. Even though I wouldn’t consider myself a nonconformist, I am a unique individual who hasn’t always fit in with the majority. I have felt the stinging whip of displeasure from my society many times, whether I wrote a sentimental poem deemed “unmanly,” or spoke out about my political views, or even when I ate rice and beans for dinner, when other kids my age had spaghetti or hamburgers. In today’s age, racial discrimination still exists, as does the persecution of homosexuals -- two drastic instances of nonconformity being punished. So much social pressure is put on minorities, gays and other nonconformists to adopt the mentality and behaviorisms of the majority that oftentimes, tragic outcomes (murder, suicide, etc.) result.

Emerson also makes, however, a critical statement about the power and responsibility of the non-conformist in the above-quoted lines. While acknowledging the rejection with which society will scorn non-conformity, Emerson places responsibility with the enlightened, self-reliant nonconformist, who must know how to identify nay-sayers and stand up to their judgments. Nonconformity, as Emerson regards it, is enlightening and conducive to personally meaningful knowledge and experiences. The challenge of self reliance is not to change the minds of the masses or, to use the poet’s language, to change “sour” faces into smiling ones. The challenge is to resist conformity, to “believe [one’s] own thought and “to believe . . . what is true for you” (19), even in the face of adversity, ridicule or rejection from others. The accepting and tolerant environments typically found on college campuses may ease a non-conformist’s lashes, but the point of self reliance is not to escape the judgment of society but to reconcile and live with it in a way that makes sense to the individual.

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