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Monday, November 9, 2009

Be an Island

Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of America's best-known original philosophers. And perhaps his best-known essay is "Self-Reliance." Published in 1841, it has contributed mightily to the shaping of that aspect of the American psyche known as "rugged individualism."

The idea is not without controversy. "Be an Island," the title of this "secret," alludes to John Donne's famous line, "No man is an island..." Certainly cooperation and mutual support, seeing ourselves as "part of the continent," are essential elements of happiness.

But there are times when it's just you staring down the barrel of a catastrophe, and you need to be ready to take care of yourself, "lift yourself up by the bootstraps," as they say.

I often remind my students that Bill Gates dropped out of university. The path of conformity can lead to happiness, true; but it seems that the greatest successes were gained by those who took to heart Emerson's dictum (in "Self-Reliance"), "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds..."

So dig down deep for that "pioneering spirit." As Emerson's pal Thoreau said, learn to follow the beat of your own drummer, and step to the music that you hear.

Or remember the words of Aristotle, who said, "Happiness belongs to the self-sufficient."

You'll be happier.

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