"To be great is to be misunderstood." I can not help, but agree with this quote. Right off, it may not make a ton of sense. Webster's dictionary says that to be misunderstood is "to interpret incorrectly" and to be great is to "remarkably skilled." It does not make since at all that someone who is unable to interpret something correctly is also remarkably skilled, but that is not the way that these words are described when Ralph Waldo Emerson used them in his Essay on Self-Reliance. Emerson knew what he was talking about, even if it did not make perfect sense.
I believe that Emerson's description of being "great" is very much like the Webster dictionary definition. Someone who is great is looked upon by many as someone who knows what his or her job is and is able to do it to the fullest. While this definition is so dead on, I think that Emerson's definition of "misunderstood" is very different from Webster's. The great person is the one who is misunderstood, but not by his oneself, by the other people observing him. He may be doing something great, but the people around him don't understand that and really have to think about it. If they didn't have to think so much about him, not as many people would discuss him with other people which just makes him more well known. This causes him to be even greater.
Originally written October 15, 2008