I was introduced to American literature in college back in the early 1970’s. My American literature tome is one of the few college textbooks that still have a place in my personal library. While I enjoyed reading the works of Poe, Longfellow, Hawthorne and a few others, I ‘fell in love’ with the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson. The combination of his majestic writing style and practical folksy wisdom makes his work compelling reading. It was he who said, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” This statement has become a metaphor for the power of innovation.
One statement by Emerson that has been something of a mantra for me over the years is, “In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.” Hardly anyone can fail to see the haunting truth in this statement. We all, at least, most of us, look back over our lives at the opportunities we had but did not seize, the ideas that came to mind to establish a business, develop a product, write a book, enter a profession, share our faith, but did not do so.
People who are successful are those who have acted on their ideas, those who have seized the opportunities presented to them. They are the Steve Jobs, the Wright Brothers, the Martin Luther King Jrs., the Michelangelos, the Beethovens, the Rosa Parks. The fabric of our society has been woven on the loom of the work and legacy of people like these. Emerson’s ‘work of genius’ statement tells us that there could be many more Steve Jobs, Michelangelos, Martin Luther King, Jrs., Beethovens, Rosa Parks, if we all followed through with our dreams and ideas. In last week’s eWeekend lead article, Erwin Mack reminded us to ‘seize the moment,’ another way of expressing Emerson’s sentiments.
A very good friend of mine enjoys eating coconut, not the green one that provides the refreshing coconut water drink, but the mature coconut that is hard and used to make coconut cream, cooking oil, desiccated coconut, etc. He often buys a coconut at the supermarket, takes it home, breaks it with a hammer to get at the kernel and has a feast of it. Several years ago he thought of having the fresh coconut kernel cut up in bite-size pieces and sold in supermarkets as a snack but did not act on it, only to discover subsequently that someone else had the very same idea, acted on it and made a good living from it. My friend’s rejected thoughts came back to him with a certain alienated majesty.
Emerson’s statement can also be applied to our spiritual lives. God provides us with opportunities from time to time to share our faith and extend His kingdom. Do we embrace these opportunities? Often we are prompted by the Spirit to speak a word for our Lord but we remain silent, only to hear someone later share his her testimony about how they shared their faith with a colleague, a neighbor or a stranger, who accepted Jesus as Lord. At such times we remember that we also had the opportunity to share our faith but we didn’t seize it.
Next time you have a good idea, whether it relates to temporal or spiritual matters, act on it. It might just prove to be the beginning of something great for you and for others.
Don W McFarlane