Imagine, for a moment, a world where every person was identical, where individual thoughts were scorned and suppressed in favor of a collective mind that ruled over each person’s identity. Would those people, going through life in the same motions, with the same judgments, ever truly be seen as men? Of course not- rather they would be drones, beings without spirit or purpose. This is an extreme case of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words- “whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.”

To address the issue of manhood, there is first the simple question: what makes the man? Throughout history, there are many factors which have been seen as defining a true person. However, the most important is self knowledge. If a person is not true to himself, whether that self be conventionally acceptable or not, then they are no more than a figment, a shadow of a real person cowering behind the shield of social conformity. Only a person who has the self confidence to drop that conformity in favor of truth can truly be said to be in touch with their inner self.

Looking back upon history, the men that stand singled out in our memory are those that broke away from the norm. We do not remember each name of each colonist who sat back and accepted British rule prior to the American Revolution; we remember those who stood up and fought, who banded together to create a new government based on Democracy instead of tyranny.

A man who crumples under a strong ruler, who refuses to take a stand when faced with oppression, loses the backbone and character that define a man. The same is true on a smaller scale of a person who gives in to peer pressure, to those who push their ideals and style onto everyone as a means of creating a sense of security for themselves.

Today, in an era of peer pressure and an increased worship of a social ideal, it is important to remember the truth behind Emerson’s words, “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.” Without people who are willing to take their own stance and break away from the crowd, society would remain in a stagnant state, with no new ideas or inventions to produce change and advancement in the world. Therefore it is clear that Emerson’s words remain as true today as when he first penned them, and society would do well to remember them.

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