words as hard as cannon balls

charcoal portrait of Emerson by Eastman Johnson
charcoal portrait of Emerson by Eastman Johnson

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Out upon your guarded lips! Sew them up with packthread, do. Else if you would be a man speak what you think to-day in words as hard as cannon balls, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. Ah, then, exclaim the aged ladies, you shall be sure to be misunderstood! Misunderstood! It is a right fool’s word. Is it so bad then to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(Self-Reliance)

14 thoughts on “words as hard as cannon balls”

    1. Kind of takes a little of the frustration out of being misunderstood, doesn’t it? These words gave me the courage to stop clinging to my old thoughts at all costs and the freedom to change my thinking and evolve…

  1. When I started reading I thought for sure he was going to advise to never speak again with our lips sewn shut! Such a relief that we can speak and be misunderstood and speak and be misunderstood and speak and be misunderstood, and be in such fine company. (grin)

    1. Fine company, yes… “With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.” Our thoughts must change as we grow because no thought is ever the one “true” thought. Great thinkers expand with the universe… (I think!)

  2. When I was a teenager I thought it was rather chic to be misunderstood. Then, I just wanted to be considered as something Apart. I never realized the commitment and daring it took to be a really “pure and wise spirit”.

    1. Ah, the memories of adolescent angst! Asserting our “individuality” by becoming veritable clones of all our dearest friends. It does take a lot of daring to evolve into a wise spirit who is wise enough to know that wisdom evolves, too.

  3. Barbara congrats on another brilliant quote. I had to read it a couple of times to really *GET* it.

    Thanks so much I feel GREAT now especially as I’m in such good company… ie.

    ” …Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. ”

    Agree with everyone that it’s an excellent charcoal portrait which looks so like a photo.

Comments welcome...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.