March 26 – Struggling to understand an Emerson quote

 “If you would lift me up you must be on higher ground.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

This quote is hard for me to grasp today. As I sit here to write I am struggling with whether I completely believe the metaphor embedded in it. Is it really true that I can only lift someone whom I am above? Can we not lift each other from a place of equality?

There are certainly circumstances where I see this is true. If I am feeling down or sad, I cannot have my spirits lifted by someone as sad or sadder than I. That person can commiserate with me, and be sympathetic, but they cannot pull my spirits up. In that case, we can grasp each other and rise up together, but one cannot lift the other.

When it comes to me seeing how I am lifted by others, it is easy to grasp. I see people every day who are, in some way, above me. Maybe they have a better approach at work, or have been more successful. Perhaps they are stronger emotionally. They may have skills that I do not, and I want to learn from them. There may be some things they do in their home life that I admire and want to emulate. In all of those cases it is easy for me to see how they can lift me up, how they can teach me or encourage me to do the things they have done to help me better myself.

Where I struggle is on the flip side. I don’t like to see myself as higher than the people around me. I don’t look to see how I can reach down to someone to pull them up, I prefer instead to see how we are together in this thing called life. When I do catch myself thinking or acting as though I am above someone, it makes me uneasy.

Perhaps this is all just a matter of semantics. Looking in the physical world it is true that for me to pull someone up, I must be on higher ground than they. But, can I not also be below them pushing them higher?

I keep thinking about great coaches in the world of sports. Many of the most successful managers and head coaches were themselves mediocre players. But there are countless examples of coaches who help make a good player into a great player, and a great player into a superstar. If a coach always had to be above the player they were coaching, then there would be a decline in player abilities in every generation. In the world of sports, a good coach can push someone to greatness, and lift them up, without being above them in skills.

In the rest of life I think this can be true as well. A parent can lift their child to achieve more than they did in their life. I can encourage and support my children to successes I never had. I am not above them pulling them up, I am behind them pushing them upward and onward.

Sometimes these quotes are challenging to me because they uncover a part of me I would like to be better. Today, this quote challenges me because I cannot agree with it completely. If you have thoughts on this quote, I would love to read them. Feel free to comment and tell me what you think this quote means, and whether you agree with Emerson, or have another take on it. Maybe we can all learn from this one together.

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1 Response to March 26 – Struggling to understand an Emerson quote

  1. Mary says:

    Bob, i think it’s a perception, the person who is getting lifted up sees the lifter as higher than he, because of the effort that the person made. Whether by a smile, a kind word, a nice gesture, when the first person didn’t expect it. We can never fully know another person’s struggle unless we give of ourselves without reward or recognition. That’s my thought.


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