Self reliance

Last September, my son’s first grade teacher proudly said during the parents’ orientation session that one of her main goals for the year was that children finish the year able consistently to follow instructions.

Hmmm.  Useful to be sure, but it left me feeling empty.

School is a funny thing.  It teaches us so many valuable lessons.   It gives a set of tools that, historically, has helped us to succeed.  Yet it also passes along a subtle, unstated, pernicious notion: someone else out there knows better than you do.  Your teacher.  The expert.  The guy who wrote the textbook.

We have a first grade class with kids brimming with curiosity, and we have a chance to decide what, and how, to teach them.  In our decision to teach them to follow the schedule and listen to the teacher, do we instill a quiet but powerful notion of self-doubt, a need to stay within the lines, a belief that someone else knows best?

They say youth is wasted on the young, and it may also be that the work of great authors is also wasted on the young as well.  Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self Reliance was required high school reading at a time when I was in no position to have an opinion on whether I was trusting myself too much, too little, or just right.

Now’s the time to reread it, and The Domino Project has it ready for you here (sorry, the 100 limited edition hardcover copies already sold out), replete with relevant new reflections from the likes of Jesse Dylan, Steve Pressfield, and Milton Glaser.

Now you may be asking yourself how relevant an essay written in 1841 will feel, but I promise this baby is worth the reread.  It is a full-on kick-in-the-pants, and on the off chance you don’t find it inspiring (very unlikely), I’m sure you’ll impress someone with a great quotation about inconsistency being the hobgoblin of little minds (yes, that’s Emerson).  So, again, you can buy it here.

Here’s the bonus: you can sign up to a self-reliance pledge, with the support and daily encouragement of our friends at the Domino Project.   They’ll be putting up daily prompts from cool, inspiring bloggers/thinkers/rabble-rousers on (or you can get them by email) to help you stay inspired and keep on listening to the person who knows best: you.

Learn from the bards and sages in your life.  Absorb everything you can of their wisdom and experience.  Stand on their shoulders and honor them by developing a deep, abiding, fierce and humble conviction in what you believe.

In the words of Emerson, “A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages.”