The Law of Compensation | Ralph Waldo Emerson | Podcast

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Today’s podcast has been edited and adapted from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Compensation”, published in 1841.

A state of POLARITY, or action and reaction, is something that we meet in every part of nature; in darkness and light; in heat and cold; in the ebb and flow of waters; in male and female; in the undulations of sound; in electricity and chemical affinity. Superinduce magnetism at one end of a needle, and the opposite magnetism takes place at the other end.

If the south attracts, the north repels. To empty here, you must condense there. An inevitable dualism bisects nature, so that each thing is a half, and suggests another thing to make it whole; such as in spirit and matter; man and woman; odd and even; subjective and objective; in and out; upper and under; motion and rest; yea and nay.

While the world is thus dual, so is every one of its parts. The entire system of things gets represented in every particle. There is something that resembles the ebb and flow of the sea, day and night, man and woman, in a single needle of the pine, in a kernel of corn, and in each individual of the world.

Dualism underlies the nature and condition of human kind. Every excess causes a defect; every defect an excess. Every sweet has its sour; every evil its good. Every faculty which is a receiver of pleasure has an equal penalty put on its abuse. For every grain of wit, there is a grain of folly. For everything you have missed, you have gained something else; and for everything you gain, you lose something.

Nature hates monopolies, and exceptions. The waves of the sea do not more speedily seek a level from their loftiest tossing, than the varieties of a condition tend to equalize themselves. There is always some levelling circumstance that puts down the overbearing, the strong, the rich, the fortunate, substantially on the same ground with all others.

This undeniable law writes the laws of cities and nations. It is in vain to build or plot against it. Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Though no checks to a new evil may appear now, the checks exist, and will appear in time. If a government is cruel, its officials are not safe. If taxes are too high, the revenue will yield nothing. If the criminal code is unjust, juries will not convict. If the law is too mild, private vengeance comes marching in.

The universe is represented in every one of its particles. Everything in nature contains all the powers of nature. Everything is made of one hidden stuff. Every occupation, trade, art, transaction, is a compendium of the world, and a correlative of every other. Each individual is an entire emblem of human life; of its good and ill, its trials, its enemies, its course, and its end. And each one must somehow reside within the whole person, and deliver his or her destiny…..

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