Dennis Elam PhD CPA, Associate Professor Accounting, Texas A & M University San Antonio
I am an Associate Professor of Accounting at Texas A & M University San Antonio. I teach undergraduate and graduate classes in Audit. These courses detail the process of expressing an opinion on where financial statements by management are fairly presented and in conformance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. In addition, I created a Texas State Board of Accountancy required Ethics class, which I have taught since 2009.
Yes, there is an official textbook, and it discusses various theories of Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Rest, Kant Mill, etc. But I discovered that such theories and individuals have, let me be delicate, marginal appeal to my accounting students. I searched for someone more relevant to the students. I finally hit in the idea of introducing Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writings which I had first encountered in high school. Bingo! The students connected very well.
The reasons are that he is American and writes about humanity and society. The students are stunned that a message from 1841 can be so relevant. The reason for the Ethics class is the spate of widely publicized audit and business failures since Enron and Worldcom. Congress passes more legislation, and we get more frauds. The object is to stimulate critical thinking on the part of the student. In addition students are at the Yoda point of life: There is no try, there is only do. If they do not commit to take and pass a certified accounting exam over the next couple of years, it is very unlikely they ever will.
Both the audit and ethics classes have Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” as their first assignment. The idea is to stimulate thinking about that very title: Resisting the temptation to ‘cook the books’ and to embrace the challenge of certified exams is the very definition of self-reliance. I also assign “Gifts,” an essay that I have posted on my weblog prior to every Black Friday since 2009. Students who are taking Ethics after Audit may choose form any of his other essays.
In the course, reading “Self-Reliance” is done in preparation to a series of videos and articles on frauds large and small. Included are local frauds including a former State Senator now in Federal Prison, national frauds in the millions, and an international multi-billion dollar fraud that may yet bankrupt the second largest Swiss bank. Students view my interview with Aaron Beam, former CFO of Health South who admits to his involvement in the CEO’s fraud and served time in prison as a result. I encourage students to ask: “Where was Aaron’s Self-Reliance?” In response, I have students write brief blog posts. Students are asked to post comments on how all these individuals lost their way by not relying on themselves. A key component to fraud is someone else urging one to do the crime. Emerson warns that imitation is suicide, be yourself.
It may surprise readers to learn that we are very much a non-traditional campus. Of 18 students in one audit class, seventeen were female. A majority of those were over 30 with a family. I find that the older students, 30-50, are much more reflective and appreciative of this assignment. My student ratings have run a full half point higher (1-+5 scale) with the older group. One remarked she hoped the rest of the reads would be as inspiring.
My contextual reason for dropping other philosophers and embracing Emerson is simple, it works. His words mean a great deal to students who have finally set a goal later in life and now face whether to continue that quest with a certification. The Ethics class goal is for them to reject the temptation of false witness. What better message than this – Trust thyself every heart vibrates to that iron string!
Sample blog posts follow and appear with the student’s consent.
An important takeaway that I experienced is the idea that there is failure and misfortune in life, but if you are living honestly and true to yourself, you will hit your mark. As someone who grew up trying to conform to what I thought would appease others, this essay flips that narrative and gives a huge sense of confidence. This is a lesson that I have learned recently and Self-Reliance confirms that lesson. My life has become much more fulfilling after I started trusting in myself, living according to my morals and trying to be a positive force in this world no matter who might be trying to bring me down. Living honestly and with integrity is a much needed trait that this world desperately needs and applies to the accounting field in such a powerful way. An auditor may be persuaded to overlook things, or an accountant might be pressured by a client into falsifying information. If these individuals are weak and conforming to others’ will, then they are just adding to the negativity in this world.
A quote that I really liked a lot from the essay said, “envy is ignorance, imitation is suicide”. Basically, trying to be like others simply kills off the originality in you, and you will just never know what you’re capable of doing, or capable of achieving. So be yourself, it doesn’t matter what other people think but what you think, what you believe in. Another thing i got out from this essay is basically that people will hold you back for any reason. If you try to be different from what they know, they simply won’t support you since it isn’t familiar to them. That should not make you go back to how you were before, rather make you work harder to be different. And that ties into the same point in that it does not matter what others think of you. If you believe in yourself, you can be capable of great things.
A quote that I really liked a lot from the essay said, “envy is ignorance, imitation is suicide”. Basically, trying to be like others simply kills off the originality in you, and you will just never know what you’re capable of doing, or capable of achieving. So be yourself, it doesn’t matter what other people think but what you think, what you believe in. Another thing i got out from this essay is basically that people will hold you back for any reason. If you try to be different from what they know, they simply won’t support you since it isn’t familiar to them. That should not make you go back to how you were before, rather make you work harder to be different. And that ties in to the same point in that it does not matter what others think of you. If you believe in yourself, you can be capable of great things.
After reading Emerson’s Self-Reliance, I found it to be extremely relevant to today’s society which is very impressive as this was written in the 189h century. The idea that we, as a society, need to remember to be true to our own selves and our own ideas and values is an extremely important one. I really enjoyed reading about Emerson’s Self-Reliance and even more enjoyed the fact that it plays into our lives every day and will continue to remain relevant.
My reflection on Emerson’s Modern Version of Self Reliance essay is emphasized in the phrase “Be yourself”. Don’t waste your time or your life trying to fit people’s stereotypes. We all have our unique thoughts, that’s what makes a person original. Envy and trying to imitate others are a lack of appreciation and acceptance of oneself.
I’m not sure this assignment could have come at a better time for me. The transitional period that I am with starting this MPA program has really had me thinking about my personal self-reliance.
I very much enjoyed Emerson’s essay on self-reliance, as I feel many of us practice a little more of self-doubt. his is such an inspirational and uplifting piece of work. Truly motivational. I honestly think this should be a must read for all ages. It should be reviewed again and again throughout our lives as we change and grow. Sometimes we all need reminders that we are uniquely and wonderfully made and that we need not compare ourselves to others, to stay true to ourselves and grown from within. Be our best self, not matter what that entails.
I enjoyed how he finished his essay with the self-reliance resolutions for us to have in our own lives. While they were all great points, some re-iterating his beliefs in not imitating or envying others, one thing made me think. When I consider when his work was written and that he already recognized that modern amenities take away from ourselves. I bet he would be shocked as to how many hours are wasted on the electronics of today. how much we are distanced from others as a result. We, as a society, are in poorer health due to some of these “improvements”. And we are having to work more to pay for them all.
Perhaps, simplicity is the key to life.