“Trust thyself,” Emerson tells the reader. The most important realization any individual can have, in fact, is that they should trust themselves above all others. Every person, says Emerson, has some role to play in the design of the universe, and it is important to understand that place as well as one’s place in the spirit of the age. The people we call great are the ones who have most effectively had that recognition, so people should not remain afraid to make whatever their individual contribution is if they are to participate in whatever great plan God has for the universe.
The simple aphorism “Trust thyself” contrasts with the relatively complex sentences before and after it, emphasizing the importance of self-trust or self-reliance to authentic morality. Emerson then continues his practice of celebrating conventional examples of morality for unconventional reasons. He is also linking individual action to an underlying truth in the universe.
Emerson believes that the universe has placed before us perfect examples of the best way to approach the world and ourselves. Babies, children, and even animals are intuitively aware of their emotions, uninhibited by what someone else may think of them, and so they are the perfect example of what it means to be a self-reliant individual.
One of Emerson’s goals in the essay is to help average people understand how to live out the transcendentalist ideal of confident individuality. The use of babies, children, and animals as examples is effective because it demonstrates to the reader that these traits are common and even ubiquitous, which means that self-reliance is within reach for most people.
Emerson claims that boys, too, with their independent attitudes, lack of respect for authority, and willingness to pass judgment on everything they encounter, are examples of this complete trust in the self.
Emerson present boys as more examples of nonconformity in everyday life. While babies’ nonconformity comes out of a lack of self-consciousness, Emerson sees boys’ nonconformity as a willful choice taken despite a growing awareness of societal expectation.