April 02, 2013

Do your work

During this busy season, I've been blogging off and on about the life and work of 19th century American literary giant Ralph Waldo Emerson. Right now I'm on his most Emersonian and American essay, Self Reliance.

Contrary to the associations such a title might bring to mind today, Emerson was not an intellectual predecessor of the vile Ayn Rand. Rather than exalting greed in the economic sphere, he was exhorting us to spiritual, personal and intellectual independence. 

The passage I'm highlighting today reminds me of the Hindu classic the Bhagavad Gita, a favorite of Emerson's. In that scripture, the god Krishna admonishes Arjuna to follow his own dharma or path of duty in the world, saying "It is better to fail in your own dharma than succeed in someone else's." In other words, do your own work and become yourself.

Here's a dose for the day:

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. 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.
The objection to conforming to usages that have become dead to you is, that it scatters your force. It loses your time and blurs the impression of your character. If you maintain a dead church, contribute to a dead Bible-society, vote with a great party either for the government or against it, spread your table like base housekeepers, — under all these screens I have difficulty to detect the precise man you are. And, of course, so much force is withdrawn from your proper life. But do your work, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself. 

JUST ONE LINK. I couldn't join this massive rally by members of the United Mine Workers union in Charleston yesterday, but I was there in spirit. I hope they win justice from Patriot coal for union retirees.


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