It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after your own; but a great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.
If you maintain a dead church, contribute to a dead Bible-society, vote with a great party either for the government or against it, spread your table like base housekeepers, - under all these screens I have diffuculty to detect the precise man you are: and of course so much force is withdrawn from your proper life. But do your work and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself. A man must consider what a blind-man's bluff is this game of conformity. If I know your sect I anticipate your argument.
Well, most men have bound thier eyes with one or another handkerchief, and attached themselves to some one of these communities of opinion. This conformity makes them not false in a few particulars, author of a few lies, but false in all particulars. Thier every truth is not quite true. Thier two is not the real two, thier four is not the real four; so that every word they say chagrins us and we know not where to begin to set them right. Meantime nature is not slow to equip us in the prison uniform of the party to which we adhere. We come to wear one cut of face and figure, and aquire, by degrees, the gentlest asinine expression.
Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint stock-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.
To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 - 1882)
Source: although this quote has always been attributed to Emerson, it has never been located within any of his work.