By Sandra Hawkins
I know an individual who earned his PhD.; he is highly admired and respected in the academic world. Amidst his peers, there is much talk of his ability to convey his learned knowledge, and they readily seek to obtain his guidance in his field of study. Sadly, we have to acknowledge that this scholar, whose name I shall never forget, Professor Whoami, has vast limitations beyond his own field of study. The man is handicapped in education and in life; he chose to become a satellite instead of a system. Poor Professor Whoami only absorbs and regurgitates information without ever observing his own thoughts. A learned individual lacking in the ability or desire to recognize the self- contained knowledge concerning life and oneself is in direct opposition to what Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) considered a true scholar and emphasized in "The American Scholar".
Emerson published The American Scholar to address- "all American college students and all others who dedicates themselves to thought" (1135). With the strong belief that education was a necessity, serving as a valuable tool in the development of society, he was also profoundly aware of the divide that had developed among the minds of our nation's individuals. Educational institutions and society had and were continuing to implement the concept that Emerson describes as mere thinker vs. man thinking. No longer was man thinking for himself; he had become entrapped within a defined label, his mind never expanding beyond the realm of the mechanism in society that he had become. Whether scholar, farmer, or lawyer, the defining labels had the potential to dictate man's passion and assign self-imposed limitations on the ability to be a whole individual. The unpinning of a label from one's own mind gives the individual the ability to become one with the scholar, farmer and lawyer. To be a man thinking instead of "the parrot of other men's thinking" signifies the true intellect (1136).
The worst fate that could befall a scholar, Professor Whoami being a prime example, is when he succumbs to the identity of a "mere thinker". The disservice to his own life is minimal in comparison to the magnitude of students that will reap his spoils. To truly educate others, one must be a man thinking. Emerson states, "Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst. What is the right use…They are for nothing but to inspire. I had better never see a book, than to be warped by its attraction clean out of my own orbit, and made a satellite instead of a system" (1138). Many of the books to educate are written by mere thinkers, and yet we designate the authors as masters when in actuality the authors are only bootlegging from the works of others handed down through time. A man thinking is capable of recognizing that which he already knows and does not limit his scope of thinking to the pages of a book. "Insist on yourself; never imitate" (1174)
When an individual accepts his own intelligence and views as his own, he is thinking beyond the scope of labels, and his thoughts are one with all mankind. He has become his own master. Emerson's essay "Self-Reliance" dictates the importance of self- trust and conjoins the philosophy with man thinking vs. mere thinking,
"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. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty". (1167)
Emerson continues to interject the theory that even though society continues to evolve and changes occur within the structure of our society, throughout history, the unity of man and the universe has remained consistent. To seek and obtain the familiarity of unity, which already exists within oneself, is the true genius, and the necessary requirement in educating others to be man thinking.
So even with all his book knowledge, poor Professor Whoami is still just a mere thinker; he still does not realize that "the great genius returns to essential man". Speaking on behalf of his colleagues and myself, I will tell you now that when we do happen upon Professor Whoami, we just smile and humor him, for he admires himself greatly, and his scholarly self-image is the poor man's only self- worth. For those of you who have not met him yet - just remember, you will recognize him by the flashing yellow lights that surround him: hazard signs, warning you that danger is ahead; Please take the detour; your mind is at risk.
- Emerson, Ralph Waldo. "The American Scholar." The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. 6th ed. Vol.B.
New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003. 1135-1138.
- Emerson, Ralph Waldo. "Self-Reliance." The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. 6th ed. Vol.B.
New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003. 1167,1174
Return to Home Page