The triumph of principles
“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.
So goes the poem, “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson. This piece by the acclaimed poet discusses the importance of following one’s own conscience instead of conforming to the whims and dictates of society.
I was particularly taken by this, particularly as I found it in an unexpected place — a book I’m reading entitled “Where Men Win Glory” by author Jon Krakauer (of “Into Thin Air” fame) on the life and death of former NFL player-turned US Army Special Ops Pat Tillman. Apparently Pat was a prolific reader and the book goes into the impact Emerson made on him at that point in his life before his untimely death from friendly fire.
Emerson shares in the poem some wise thoughts: “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think.” Those words are even truer today when so much of the world is going by pursuits that do not bring peace or happiness. Materialism, selfishness, greed, competitiveness, bullying even — all these things can result from the pursuit of “what the people think” instead of belief and trust in what you think.
By definition, “self-reliance” means “to trust in one’s own efforts and abilities.” It’s a valuable tool because it is a building block of true self-esteem. You have to believe in yourself, in your abilities in order to feel good about yourself. Self-reliance can be illustrated by the old saying, “If you give a man a fish, you’ll feed him for a day. If you teach him how to fish, you’ll feed him for a lifetime.” It’s also a key foundation for something else that is hugely important, “resilience.”
Both self-reliance and resilience are traits that are too often lacking in our young people today. Our ancestors might have called this “backbone” and it’s one of those things that the early settlers and pioneers and Founding Fathers of this country couldn’t have done without. In the days of the pioneers, there were no government subsidy programs if the food ran out, you relied on yourself and your neighbors in times of trouble. Of course this means you were also connected to your neighbor and held their needs and concerns near and dear to your heart. They stuck together, watched each others’ backs because their very survival depended on it.
But nowadays, too many look to outside sources to solve their problems. When times get tough, too many give up or cave in. We have lost our ability to trust and rely on ourselves and hope there’s a quick fix or simple solution to every challenge we face — even those troubles we’ve created ourselves.
When you know and can trust in your own abilities and principles, then you know that you have what it takes to deal with the ups and downs in life. Or, if you don’t have the ready answer, you know you can find it. I think that’s what Emerson meant when he said “Power…resides in the moment of transition from a past to a new state….” It’s our own personal power, our belief in what we can do and in what we stand for.
When “what we stand for” is what supports us, then we can rest assured that our actions will be aligned with our beliefs. That’s a great place to be and when you reach that point, you are not only at peace with yourself, you can be at peace with others around you.