“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else, is the greatest accomplishment.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the greatest American essayists, poets, and thinkers, clearly understood the importance of self-acceptance. He believed in searching for truth from within. Back in the early days of the Transcendental movement, Emerson had experienced firsthand both the benefits and drawbacks of going against mainstream culture and society. Emerson’s clear message was that a self-directed path is the only path that can lead to true happiness and contentment.
The same message applies even in modern times. We are constantly bombarded by ideas that try to make us something else. We are told how to be, who we should be like, how to live, what our beliefs ought to be and what we should wear… and the list goes on. The ideas come from all around us, from the media, from family, friends and even strangers. We are told that it is better to conform because daring to be different means running the risk of rejection. Thus, we strive to fit in; we mold ourselves so that, in essence, we can be like everyone else.
Can we expect to find true happiness, when we deny who we truly are, in order to please others? Can we experience true self-love, when we strive to keep our inner selves hidden from others, fearing they might perceive us as different and therefore, label us “strange” or “a freak”? Clearly, Emerson thought not. He wrote and spoke often about the importance of finding, accepting and loving the self.
Finding Yourself in A Crowded World
You might find that you mostly just go along with the crowd, believe what they believe, think what they think, say what they say. There is no need to engage in critical thinking because you figure that if the majority has the same belief, then it must be true. You like being liked. Also, you do not want to stick out like a sore thumb, as there is just too much at stake. You fear that others will shun you for holding a different view.
After some time, you may find yourself losing the sense of self. You do not who you are, what you stand for, what values you have, what your dreams are and so on. You feel disconnected with your inner being. With enough awareness, you may even realize how miserable you are.
“All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I looked someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naive. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I could answer”.
The lesson here is so poignant. Only when you begin to question what you have been told about yourself and your world, can you begin to weed out the other voices, in an attempt to find the voice that is uniquely your own. You need to go on a journey of self-discovery.
One excellent idea for self-discovery is to keep a journal. Emerson kept a journal, which totaled more than three million words. Journaling was something he did over the span of sixty years. His thoughts and philosophical wanderings are complied into more than 16 large volumes of literary exploration. Indeed, for Emerson, self-discovery was a lifelong process.
Emerson’s journals have served as a source of inspiration for many other great writers, thinkers and speakers. You might even have come across many quotes that were written by him. You too can use the principles applied by Emerson to establish your own path for self-discovery.
1. Question everything.
2. Evaluate new concepts and ideas as they are presented to you.
3. Examine your own feelings about things that are familiar to you, traditions, rituals, even daily habits that you are accustomed to engaging in.
4. Analyze different perspectives and viewpoints.
As you embark on your journey of self-discovery, through exploration and questioning, you may discover that your true feelings and beliefs differ from the ideas of others, or even from your own earlier ideas. When examining different points of view, only you can decide which ideas or worth accepting and which are worthy of rejection.
Questions to Ask
1. Is this what I think, or is this what I have been told to think?
2. Where did this thought, belief or idea originate from?
3. Do I have to accept this concept as true? Why or why not?
4. What are my reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with this idea?
Be reminded that what you are told or taught to believe is not always valid. When you question the beliefs and ideas of the majority, and then you choose to believe that your own thoughts and opinions could be equally as valid, you have begun to experience a level of self acceptance that few people are able to obtain.
Through self-acceptance you learn to validate and accept your own opinions and ideas. You learn to be comfortable with everything about you. Only when you come to truly know and understand your genuine inner self, can you truly experience unconditional acceptance for yourself. In time, others will also respect you for having the courage to be your unique self.