In man’s existence today, various concepts exist which if learnt and adhered to, can change the very quality of life itself. This is admirably conveyed by Emerson in his essay on self reliance and also deduced from chapters seven and eleven of Thoreau’s book on Walden. In chapter seven, the author narrates the story of an impoverished farmer who toils on his farm from sunrise to sunset, while in chapter 11, Thoreau dwells on the qualities of the inner person. After reading these essays, one is convinced that the most important attribute in life is that which is gained from knowledge of our true being as intended by the creator.
Beginning with Emerson’s work, self trust is shown to be the key to self reliance because man’s true nature is that which is within him. We are all individuals in the eyes of providence, each with our own place which we must learn to accept and respect. It is only when we exercise self trust in the abilities given to us, that we will be able to improve as human beings. The author goes on to say that when we cultivate a respect for ourselves, we reject that which is external and which we spend every waking moment looking for. What is important is not the acquisition of material wealth, but rather, internal spiritual wealth.
It is only when we place our faith in GOD, who is the most trustworthy and sits in our heart, that we gain self trust. He then works through our hands and predominates our beings. When you are in conformity, this undercuts your self reliance because it scatters your forces, and the real you cannot be detected. You tend to do things as everybody does. It is therefore important to be your own individual and your uniqueness will be evident. Consistency, on the other hand, enslaves us to our pasts because we are constantly judging our present with 2 tandards from the past. We fear to be contradicted by our peers and are therefore less and less self reliant.
Self reliance is evident from the bean field chapter of Thoreau because the farmer was rewarded for his hard work with a harvest of twelve bushels. He did not have the benefit of modern farm implements or labor, yet he loved his work and was rewarded for it. This is a demonstration of self reliance born out of necessity. Instead of discouragement at the prospect of toil, the farmer confronted the ordeal happily and with spiritual calm.
Additionally, he gained much more than money. He earned the respect of his neighbors, confidence and experience from his work. John Fields is another impoverished farmer who has a wife and a family to feed. Unfortunately, he is in a situation where survival dictates that he works for a wage as someone’s employee. For this very reason, he cannot be self reliant. Additionally, in order to change his lifestyle, he faces the prospect of being unable to afford the necessities of everyday life, for example, tea, coffee, meat and clothes.
He also seems unable to find the time to contemplate his spiritual wellbeing which may help him look at his life afresh. However, the concepts conveyed by Thoreau’s higher laws can prove invaluable to him. One of them is that, “Man flows to GOD when the channel of purity is open”. This means that Fields must seek GOD who will give him an inner calm. This will enable him to identify that for which he is best suited to do and treat himself with respect. Additionally, he will be able to find that which identifies him as an individual, thereby helping him to excel.
The kind of wealth that is described in Emerson’s “wealth” essay is very foreign to John Field’s understanding. According to Emerson, wealth is the application of mind to nature. This requires that one draws a benefit from the labors of the greatest numbers of men, and also do what his creator intended him to do. Unfortunately, Fields is a laborer who is employed on a wage. He does not even understand the concept of business, let alone begin to fathom how he can employ others.
Additionally, he may be in the wrong career and needs to re-evaluate it if he is to enjoy the fruits of a better lifestyle. When Frederick Douglas goes to the north, he discovers that work, unlike in the south, is done with pride and actually creates wealth without the need for slave labor. It also dawns on him that freedom of the mind is the perfect breeding ground for economic progress, which he sees in even former slaves. Additionally, with a free mind comes the possibility of improving the intellect through reading.
The common thread running through these readings is that the mind and spirit come first before the body. Nature can only be conquered by the spirit and the best way to enrich the spirit is by accepting that GOD has a purpose for each and every one of us. He has given us individual qualities which we must strive to nurture. We must recognize these qualities and use them according to his will. If we do not see the advantage within our hearts, then we will, as individuals, continue to move in a crowd, and our uniqueness will not help us or humanity. Wealth is first and foremost, that of the heart and spirit.