The quote that most provoked thought and emotion from within me comes from the essay “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson. “To be great is to be misunderstood” was used by Emerson to explain the lagging growth of the conception of ideas and thoughts of his generation. Original and novel ideas were scorned by conservatives who believed the best method for learning was by repetition and memorization of proven classics written by previous generations. The continuing timelessness of his quote is still in effect today as the scientific community has evolved to accept unaccustomed theories, yet encounters difficulty when relating to the public new and extreme ideas that rebut the system.
In history, the results of individualism has been spread world wide. Important leaders, thinkers, and philosophers with radical ideas in virgin areas of research were making significant finds rapidly. Yet progress was slowed by short-sighted men who failed to see greatness.
Aberham Lincoln was a revolutionary in his time with his views on slavery and forgiveness of the South. Yet his death was the result of one man’s refusal to accept what was once a proud and rich land reduced to tatters- left to ruin because of her failure to 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 the author of entertaining novels of the South Seas. It was not until 1920s when his place in America’s foremost writers was assured. His works are now great masterpieces of emotion that were misunderstood while he was still alive.
Another important example is democracy. In medieval times, monarchies and kingdoms ruled the land. Today, the monarch is merely a figurehead behind the power of democracy. At the birth of the democratic rise of the United States of America, the colonists were thought of as upstart fools- dreamers believing the impossible. English royalists were aghast at the indignation of the colonies to separate from England and form their own country. In present day, the United States is the sole world power, a great country born out of dreams.
“Self-Reliance” expressed the need for creative thinking. Society during Emerson’s era resisted reform and scorned the reformer. Emerson saw individualism in direct conflict with society. “The effect of society,” he thought,” was not to strengthen 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 be great is to be misunderstood” reflected upon the lack of acceptance of new thought and theory during his time.