Core Decorum: Insistere

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Illustration courtesy of Cecilia Lang.

Ralph Waldo Emerson declared, “insist on yourself,” in his essay “Self-Reliance.” It is easy to brush off his advice and consider it the same as the common encouragement to “be yourself.” However, what Emerson means to suggest is much different than the how it first appears.

The verb “insist” comes from the latin word “insistere.” The Latin word “in” translates to “upon,” and “sistere” translates “to stand.” The two come together and mean “to stand upon,” or “persist.” Whereas the verb “to be” means simply to exist, to be present.

To “be” is passive and boring; the advice to “be yourself” is unhelpful, since it requires nothing from us that we are not already doing. We are already existing. To be yourself is to be what you already are. Yet, to insist on yourself is quite different. It requires action and persistence on our end. It reveals a potential to grow. When we choose to insist upon ourselves, we recognize that we have not reached our full human capacity, and a new world of possibility opens before us.

Consider the times you decided not to take a certain class or follow through with a new talent or job because you felt like you were not good at it. In that moment you were giving way to weakness and believing that you, as yourself, could not accomplish something. The advice to be yourself is misleading because it implies that we, as individuals, are static and incapable of growth and betterment.

Now consider the times you felt defeated by something, whether it be a physical, emotional or mental challenge, yet chose to persist and grew as a result. That is what it means to “insist on yourself”; it is to persist in omething despite the difficulties. It means studying for an extra hour even though nothing is sticking. It means talking to someone new even though you are shy. It means not giving up on the guitar just because it makes your fingers hurt.

To insist upon yourself is to recognize that we, as humans, are dynamic and ever-changing. We have the strength to endure hardships and to learn from them. This year, let us not simply be ourselves, but instead let us insist on ourselves and strive to grow in new ways. Let us be strong in our beliefs and recognize our ability to voice our minds and our capacity to change the world around us.

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