Emerson’s Call to Greatness

Jeff Carreira Philosophy 7 Comments

When I ask myself who was Ralph Waldo Emerson the answer that comes to my mind is that he was a call to greatness. Throughout all of his writing what can be heard is a never ending call to be great, to rise up to the highest pinnacle of humanity and to represent that possibility for others. Emerson realized that as human beings we symbolize possibilities for each other. When we see someone of greatness they represent that possibility and they pull on us to meet them in that quality. Emerson believed that  great human beings, through their example, lead the progression of history and culture forward. He called all those around him to become worthy representatives of greatness. In his later work called Representative Men he wrote:

“Men have a pictorial or representative quality, and serve us in the intellect. Boehme and Swedenborg saw that things were representative. Men are also representative; first, of things, and secondly, of ideas.”

There are different types of great individuals. They can be great poets, statesman, scholars, or mystics, but what is important is their greatness.  It is through being true to your own vocation that allows you to achieve the status of greatness. You can recognize your own vocation by discovering what you have talent for. Your talents have been bestowed upon you for the fulfillment of your vocation.

Achieving greatness does not come through an act of personal will. Emerson believes that those who aspire to greatness must allow the larger spirit of humanity to work through them. Success in this lofty endeavor rests not in the personal will but to the  degree that the efforts of the individual run parallel “to the course of thought, which found in them an unobstructed channel.”

At each time in history a certain trajectory of thought was playing itself out in human history. The great individual is the one who allows that thought to advance itself through their actions. As Emerson envisions it, if one is able to do this there is little effort involved in the activity. He writes, “Place yourself in the middle of the stream of power and wisdom which animates all whom it floats, and you are without effort impelled to truth, to right, and a perfect contentment.”

This is our mandate as human beings. We must discover our true vocation and then allow our talents to be used by the universal spirit, what Emerson referred to as the Over-Soul, for the betterment of humankind. The Over-Soul needs us to continue its work in unfolding the universe. According to Emerson, “The fact that I am here certainly shows me that the soul had need of an organ here.” He goes on to ask of himself, “Shall I not assume the post? Shall I skulk and dodge and duck with my unseasonable apologies and vain modesty, and imagine my being here impertinent?”

For Emerson we are each here to strive for greatness and in so achieving to inspire others to strive for their own greatness. In this way the entire human race is uplifted in a never-ending ascent to a perfected state. These are the core elements that Emerson would develop over the course of his life time into a powerful and original Evolutionary Spirituality. In so doing he would himself become a “representative man” and he would inspire generations of thinkers, in America and abroad. The later more modern philosophy of the Pragmatists would borrow heavily from the fundamental thoughts that Emerson brought to the table.

About the Author

Jeff Carreira
Jeff Carreira is a mystical philosopher and spiritual guide. He is the author of eleven books on meditation and philosophy. He teaches online programs and leads retreats throughout the world that teach people how to let go of their current perceptual habits so they are free to participate in the creation of a new paradigm. To put it simply, he supports people to live a spiritually inspired life, free from the constraints of fear, worry and self-doubt, and aligned with their own deepest sense of meaning and purpose.
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Liesbeth
Liesbeth
10 years ago

Dear Jeff, I do not know if I am valuing your blog with responding in this way, but something changed in me this morning which actually connects to what you are writing about. I am already looking for quite a long time at the fact that post-modernity is really at its height in culture. The new CEO in my big city-company is a typical left wing guy, bringing in typical green values; the new mare of Amsterdam is super green. And super green is not specifically looking at greatness. I am too green myself to look forward to hierarchy, but… Read more »

Frank Luke
Frank Luke
10 years ago

I really believe that the creation of America has been a turning point and milestone in evolutionary consciousness and spirituality. Has this been pointed out before? With our promulgation of human rights and the direction of our American Experiment, with all it’s shortcomings, I believe we’re inspiring the direction of humanity towards the human potential to be enlightened. All the pushback democracy and America is getting is all to the good, forcing us to evaluate ourselves to tweak our values. Let’s hope all the opposition to our way of viewing life will lose out and that Democracy is the way… Read more »

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
10 years ago

I have my doubts about democracy since 1,5 million people in Holland voted for a fool. Important is that people are willing to think and not just follow the one who shouts loudest. Hitler was elected in the same way; collective fear or aggression, choosing one group to hate. I am heading towards the end of a Taoist in Wall street and it seems that all my question come together in this last part of the book: what is spirituality really all about. Is it real or is it something we want to be real. I am sorry for not… Read more »

Frank Luke
Frank Luke
10 years ago

Hi Liesbeth: Great to hear from you, I was beginning to wonder if there was still life out there, my hardly ever getting any responses to my comments. So thanks a lot. Re: “what is spirituality really all about. Is it real or is it something we want to be real.” I am a believer that we are all potentially spiritually enlightened but a you are very well aware, many do not know it or act as if they don’t have a clue. So the work of getting to the point where more are aware and behave in that way… Read more »

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
10 years ago

I just finished my book and I think some truth is in its bitterness. If Tao is Jin and Jang, Jin is the womb, the silence, the stillness, the mystery, while Jang is life, evolution, survival of the fittest. Spiritual life is mostly letting go of the Jang. When I finished the book, I thought this is the end of my spiritual interest. I had found so many links in the book to my own life -I live according to the I tjing- and it ended like I end, with nothing. So I was happy with your response. I will… Read more »

Frank Luke
Frank Luke
10 years ago

Liesbeth, re: the above comment

Plato’s idea is that what we learn is mostly remembering what we already know. Good teaching and any info that informs us is something we recognize, and some call it recognition. The more emotionally relevant it is, the more likely it is it will be remembered, sometimes even negative teaching can be effective though unpleasant.

Strange isn’t it, how we remember certain things and not others and how much we stuff into our heads?

I’m the kind who loves info and learning, as I think many here on are like this as well.

Tow
Tow
8 years ago

The selected wirtings of Ralph Waldo Emerson Today s selection strikes a chord since so many people appear to be going through the motions like robots. Enthusiasm is a good thing. Unfortunately, it is usually perceived as a manic bounding about, with frantic movement and frantic results. Enthusiasm begins with an excitement and anticipation for the task we are about to undertake. In a short time the excitement gives away to a satisfaction as the procedure flows smoothly along. As the task proceeds toward completion there s a cheerful satisfaction as we contemplate our results. Finally, as we view the… Read more »