It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion;
it is easy in solitude to live after our own;
but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd
keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
At a time when there are so many diverse opinions being proffered in the world and those opinions are causing so much trouble (terrorism, American politics, religious conflicts), I am drawn to Emerson’s quote.
We, humans, are an opinionated bunch! On most topics, there are as many ideas as there are people. As we live in neighborhoods, communities, nations and organizations, we confront the collision of those differing ideas every day. At work, in coffee shops, at church, even at the dinner table — people disagree with us.
So what should we do? I think Emerson got it right. For some of us, it is just easier to go along with popular opinion, than to go against the flow. For others of us, the answer to is to keep to ourselves, where no one questions our ideas.
How much better to take Emerson’s advice and be “great” — to be so strong and sure in our beliefs, that even out in the face of the “world’s opinion,” we are able to live out our values. Even more important though is to keep “with the perfect sweetness the independence of solitude” — to be as at peace with our beliefs in a crowd as we are in solitude. Think how much progress could be made in the world, if everyone followed this advice!
I am especially drawn to Emerson’s choice of the word, “sweetness.” It has such a calming, positive connotation. These days, one only has to turn on television or talk radio to hear people assaulting one another in an exchange of opinions that turns quickly into sarcasm and accusation. To be great, Emerson reminds us, we must not only stick to our beliefs, but also, as we encounter those who disagree with us, rise above defensiveness, fear and anger to speak with a calm sense of resolve and rationalism. Of course, that’s easier said than done much of the time, but it is a challenge worth our effort.
As you consider your experiences with the exchange of opinions, explore these questions:
What is one (or more) of your beliefs that isn’t shared by your family or friends?
How do you handle situations when others disagree with you?
How are you living out your essential beliefs alone as well as in a crowd?
InSpiritry is the practice of using Greater Good Thinking to seek Peace by using an Wider Lens, Open Mind and Gentle Heart. According to Emerson, Peace, that most “perfect sweetness,” begins, when, in the “midst of the crowd,” we can hold fast to our values, speak our beliefs and allow others to do the same.
When We Sweetly Keep Our Beliefs, We Can Be a Blessing!