It is the once-in-a-generation events that reshape our world and our thinking, and it is in such times that we turn to timeless works that offer reassurance and provide inspiration. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in “Self-Reliance,” which resonates just as strongly now, “The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks. See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency. Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing.” When Emerson published his most famous essay in 1841, it was in the aftermath of the calamitous financial collapse of 1837. His positive vision for the power of individualism and personal responsibility was issued in a climate filled with panic and uncertainty, and at a time, much like today, when the values of society and humanity were in the process of being reformed.
Emerson’s text is widely available to read online, but this new, graphically reimagined edition, produced with Design Observer, elevates his wisdom through the printed word and includes twelve contemporary essays by Jessica Helfand. To suggest, as Emerson’s text does, that the richest lives are lived with an independent mind, spirit, and creativity surely deserves to be celebrated.