by Sean Wheeler
Last Friday we dove into some more Ralph Waldo Emerson as a way to get us thinking about our approach to the Wikiseat project. Here’s what we read:
Excerpts from, Self Reliance (1841), by Ralph Waldo Emerson
There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.
Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being.
Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world. I remember an answer which when quite young I was prompted to make to a valued adviser, who was wont to importune me with the dear old doctrines of the church. On my saying, What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within? my friend suggested, “But these impulses may be from below, not from above.” I replied, “They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil’s child, I will live then from the Devil.” No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature. Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution, the only wrong what is against it.
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.
For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure. And therefore a man must know how to estimate a sour face. The by-standers look askance on him in the public street or in the friend’s parlor. If this aversion had its origin in contempt and resistance like his own, he might well go home with a sad countenance; but the sour faces of the multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause, but are put on and off as the wind blows and a newspaper directs.
The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them.
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. “Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.” Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1841
After spending the whole day on the text, (btw – flexible group scheduling is great!), I asked the students to think about all of the ways that Emerson’s text connect with our Wikiseat project. They are about to start heading off to their own workspaces, teaming up with friends, calling up uncles, etc. and I asked them to end the day by writing a Wikiseat Manifesto. I explained that a manifesto is a statement of both principles and intent. I asked them to adopt the principles set forth in Self-Reliance and combine them with their intent to design and build their own Wikiseat. There are so many great responses. So many students wrote epic manifestos, and I’ll be sharing them here for awhile, but here’s what Courtney wrote. Following is the prompt that the students received, and Courtney’s response.
For this journal assignment, I’d like you to write a personal manifesto in relation to our work on the Wikiseat Project and our work on Emerson’s, Self-Reliance.
A manifesto is a public declaration of principles and intentions. I want you to write a passionate and inspiring statement that relates Emerson’s principles to your intentions on carrying out the Wikiseat Project with a high degree of success.
“I am one of those kids that can’t stand school. I’m the person that complains about being at school all day every day. That was true up until this year, when we learned about Ralph Waldo Emerson, and were introduced to “the chair project.” “Self reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson makes it clear that you are who you are and no one can change you and that being yourself is key. “There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide;” What Ralph means by this is that if you don’t do what comes from your heart then you are just following someone else’s idea. I do not want to follow, I want to lead.
When we were introduced to the chair project, my ideas were pretty basic. I planned on making just a basic chair. That would be a followers thought, but now I am thinking more on how to make my chair “me.” I want people to look at my chair and know that I made it and that it expresses who I am. Only I can think up my idea. My chair is going to be different, creative, and unlike no other.
Ralph says “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think.” This is very inspiring because if you think about it, most decisions people make are based on what other people think. For example when you get dressed in the morning, you don’t want to wear something that your friends don’t like, because you don’t want to be made fun of. Be yourself. If you like “hippie” outfits, then wear a hippie outfit. If you want to make a chair out of T.Vs, make a chair out of T.Vs. It is important to do things your way and if others don’t like it… then that’s too bad, because you know that it is always fun to do something out of the ordinary. This is what lead me to the idea of my collage chair.”