two sided fact: why self reliance drives what we do



“Cause and effect are two sides of the same fact.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson


So. Emerson’s work influenced nearly every generation of thinker, writer and poet since his time. He was a philosopher, lecturer, writer and poet and considered one of the great orators of all time. He was a champion of “individualism” or the ownership of personally owning one’s own ‘cause & effect’ if I stick with that theme. In other words each of us is responsible for what happens (actions and causes).

And I love his thought on cause:

“The ancestor of every action is a thought.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thought to action. Simple. Thoughtful. Something we should keep in mind. In fact I would argue this may be the only truly important reflective thinking we should do. Huh? We spend gobs of time on naval gazing self reflection of who I want to be, how good a person am I?, crap like that. But how often do we vigorously reflect on the ancestors of our actions? Not enough I would suggest. Rummage around for what you were thinking or, more specifically, what was the thought that beget the whole string of actions which got you to this point of reflection.

Anyway. Oliver Wendell Holmes once called his 1837 speech The American Scholar as America’s “Intellectual Declaration of Independence.” Independence, to Emerson, pertained to an individual’s cause and affect. Or maybe better said “self reliance” (which is probably his most well known essay). Fate or chance was not part of his vocabulary. A key repeating theme in his thinking was the need for each individual to avoid conformity and and what he called  “false consistency.” He encouraged individuals to follow his or her own instincts and ideas.

In fact. Self reliance is the source of one of Emerson’s most famous quotes, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

What I absolutely LOVE about Emerson’s “self reliance” idea is that it is not anything near anti-society or anti-community or anti-group. To him, self reliance is anti – nothing. Instead it is pro-me/you/I. He consistently advocated self-reliance as a starting point for people and not seek it as a goal.

THAT, my friends, is an awesome thought.

He encouraged people to retain the outspokenness of a small child who freely speaks his mind because he has not yet been corrupted by adults who tell him to do otherwise.

He encouraged people to avoid envying or imitating others viewed as models of perfection.

He encouraged people to take pride in their own individuality and never be afraid to express their own original ideas.

He encouraged people to refuse to conform to the ways of the popular culture and its “shallow ideals.”

He encouraged people to live up to their own ideals even if doing so reaps them criticism and denunciation.


Good stuff for all of us. I guess my point here is you, each of us, every individual, is responsible for every ‘effect’ in our lives assuming we step up to the plate and act like an individual and be who we are and act like who we are <rather than follow like lemmings over a society cultural cliff>. The point is self reliance isn’t a badge of independence it is simply an attitude that embraces responsibility without ego <note: the ego inevitably would make it a “me versus we” zero sum game attitude>.


I have written several things about moments and taking advantage of seconds or minutes as opportunities to go “do.” Emerson, in his belief in individuality, may have scoffed at my literary technique, but he would have certainly given a rousing “hear hear!” <I assume that is what they did in those days> to the intent behind the thoughts I have been writing.

And with that here is one of my favorite Emerson poems. Favorite in that it is about the opportunity each day represents to each of us … and the disdain “Day” must feel if we waste it:


Days by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Daughters of Time, the hypocritic Days,
Muffled and dumb like barefoot dervishes,
And marching single in an endless file,
Bring diadems and fagots in their hands.
To each they offer gifts after his will,
Bread, kingdoms, stars, and sky that holds them all.
I, in my pleached garden, watched the pomp,
Forgot my morning wishes, hastily
Took a few herbs and apples, and the Day
Turned and departed silent. I, too late,
Under her solemn fillet saw the scorn.

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Written by Bruce