One of a Kind, Just Like Everyone Else.

Ralph vs. The Atlantic

I get this notification on my phone from The Atlantic, odd because I don’t subscribe to The Atlantic.

The notification starts off, “Ralph Waldo Emerson wasn’t actually self- reli…”

Okay, I see what’s coming. 


So I didn’t read it and therefore this could all be pointless speculation, but what the hell. 

I’m not sure what Ralph’s been up to that’s gotten him canceled, having been dead for quite a clip now,  but I can’t help speculating about why someone would be inspired to launch such an investigation into his background at this late date.

Anyone can write about whatever they want, I’m not suggesting censorship. This is more an observation.

I mean, of all the subjects a person could write about, it’s an interesting choice to use one’s Article Mojo to dig into the epistemological skeleton closet of Ralph Waldo Emerson. 

Since the basic gist of Emerson’s Self-Reliance is answering to and being yourself – “Insist on yourself, never imitate” – and following your own intuition and inspiration – “Learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across your mind from within” – the idea that someone would seek to discredit him with a blanket implication that he didn’t walk his own talk is more than a little intriguing.

It feels like an oddly-specific, poorly-timed whisper campaign.

“Emerson asked someone for advice in his thirties and probably had someone do his laundry, pass it on…”

I guess if I read the article, I’d know what “criteria” was used to judge whether Emerson was “really” self-reliant, but since I stubbornly refuse to do so I can only hazard the guess that it’s trifling stuff.

Since when does anyone – whether in the arts or not – perfectly live up to every single ideal they believe in?

Expecting that from a human being is unrealistic. Expecting it from someone who creates things that strike a chord in the heart is destructive.

It’s a bit like saying, hey, avoid this huge chunk of human experience –  sure, it would inform your work, and make it rich and relatable and enduring, and you’d learn valuable lessons you’d be able to pass on, but nah, perfect is more important – oh, and by the way? If you could write everything with this half-dried-out Sharpie held between your teeth, that’d be great.

It’s a standard we don’t strive for in other areas of life. 

We don’t require every singer who performs a love song to actually be in love. We don’t force a chef to like everything that they cook for others. 

And people who don’t do yoga are out in these streets wearing yoga pants with impunity.

It’s really not necessary that every artist and writer perfectly live up to the ideals they aspire to in their work in order for that work to be considered useful, or significant, or inspiring.

A good idea that does no harm is a good idea that does no harm, regardless of who came up with it or how well they lived up to it. 

A creator’s personal habits have very little to do with whether or not what they present in their work is meaningful.

Can you imagine:

“She has a makeup tutorial channel and my brows have never looked better, but I saw her at the farmer’s market yesterday and she didn’t even have makeup on so I unsubscribed right away!”

Actually, that scenario has probably already happened many times and I don’t know about it, because I’m not in any loops, so let’s build a strawman:

What if someone wrote something unbelievably useful and then it turned out they were going out in a trenchcoat flashing the elderly or something?

Isn’t the thing they wrote still useful? (Because obviously there would be nothing in the work in question saying to go shock Grandma – an editor would have caught that.)

Sometimes we can only learn what is right for us by experiencing that which is not right for us. And then, those experiences give us information others don’t have.

At that point we can choose to make that intel available so that if other people would rather serpentine out of the way of the challenges we faced,  using the wisdom we acquired while doing so, they have that option.

Way more efficient than everyone making all the same mistakes while waiting for the perfect people to come write all the books because how dare any writer be human and therefore imperfect, the nerve.

There is valuable information to be found in pretty much everything, including the stuff that we don’t buy into, the stuff that is flawed, even the stuff we wholly oppose – because stuff we disagree with contains valuable clues about the person behind it which we can use to discover WHY they hold that opinion or have that inclination or simply ARE whatever it is that they are.

It’s really important to let artists and writers be artists and writers and not hold them to some unpredictable and wildly fluctuating standard that was decided by those whose fitness to judge such matters is presumed (solely on the basis of them voicing a criticism) rather than proven.

If an idea or work is flawed but still the seed of it shows promise, we can build upon it and help it evolve into its best potential.

If it’s rotten, we know where not to step next time. 

And if the work is good, the World is fortunate to have it.

So I don’t care if Ralph had people carry him around everywhere on a gigantic cafeteria tray, Self-Reliance is a valid work and matters, pass it on.