If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

January 1947

 

I am puzzled about what is going on in U.N. It seems to me that when the Americans or British make a proposal, the Russians ignore it or make a directly opposite one. I get the feeling that we will never be able to work with the Russians. Do you feel that way?

No, I do not feel that way. It seems to me quite possible to get on with the Russians, though I think it is going to take us a long while really to understand each other. There are fundamental differences that exist between us, in our backgrounds and in our points of view, which arise very largely from the fact that Russia is a very young nation—young and virile—but, nevertheless, insecure. We have more than 150 years behind us, and we have attained a good deal of the poise and security which come with maturity.

The desire for security motivates practically every country. They need a sense that they have friends and are safe in the family of nations; that their people and their own strength are adequate to meet the demands which living in the modern world requires.

It is much easier to have confidence in people if you have a sense of security. We have gained it, and I think for that very reason we should perhaps be better able today to be generous about some of the very obvious moves which are made by the Russians, largely because of their lack of security. Only with confidence and trust can peace be a reality.

There is no question, for instance, that ultimately we will all have more security if we have a greater sense of interdependence; put more strength into the United Nations, and count less on our own individual strengths. Even we find that hard to accept, because it is such a new concept of living with other nations, and for the Russians, who have lived on the continent of Europe, where every nation has looked askance at every other nation for years, it is even harder than it is for us.

We are apt to forget the changes that have come over the world, and to judge whatever moves Russia makes to assure her security from the point of view of the world ethics of today, rather than from the point of view which was prevalent years ago when we met our own problems. In many ways, Russia is today where we were a hundred years or more ago. We did not like it when people criticized us. And it was not just because of the criticism; it was because we were a little afraid that some of the things they said were probably true!

One takes criticism better as one grows older; and if we really understood, I think we would face more realistically some of the things which Russia has done, even though we might still oppose them, because we know both the world of today and the world of our youth.

For instance, we proclaimed the Monroe Doctrine for our own security; and many of the other moves which we are reminded of as we go back through the pages of our history were made to give us a sense of security. Many a time in our history we have done highhanded things, but we have done them always with a sense of virtue because they made us more secure! They increased our economic stability, or our defenses; so, as we felt that our motives were good, we justified our self-interests.

That is something we must not forget when we watch another nation, a virile, young nation, in a period when international and national ethics have changed considerably, trying to gain some things which we have already achieved. It is far harder today to live by modern standards and still achieve these things, since the buccaneer days are over. The Atomic Age has wiped out the past in which we grew up.

When all this is considered, however, I think it is essential that the Russians also understand that the nations living around them, who have greater maturity, have set up certain standards, and that to live successfully with them the effort to understand those standards must be made. They will have to stop some of the practices which are relics of the past, and recognize eventually the basic difference between our two beliefs: We think the state must serve the individual; and they think the individual is subservient to the state. Gradually as our conceptions become clearer to each other, and as life becomes more worth while to every individual in his part of the world, we will, I believe, find a happier medium for working together and living together in peace and amity.

 

I was married three months ago, but up to this time I haven't made any new friends, because I'm just too shy. What can I do to stop feeling so uncomfortable with strangers?

Remember, first of all, that your husband fell in love with you and married you and that he is proud of you. That should give you some assurance. Try to forget how you feel and think only of how your guests feel and your shyness will soon disappear.

 

Why don't you write an article on "the perfect guest"? I would like to read it.

I think I would rather write an article on the perfect host. A guest is really only good or bad because of the host or hostess who makes being a guest an easy or a difficult task.

 

My friend was killed in action overseas. This was two years ago, but he is still constantly on my mind. Nothing I can do nor anyone I meet seems to measure up to Bob. What is the best way to forget the past and look forward to the future?

I know of no way to forget the past. Perhaps you can learn to live with it more happily, remembering what gave you joy, realizing that no one whom you loved and who loved you would want you to go on and lead a lonely life because you kept comparing him with the new friends that came into your life. You do not want to forget Bob, but you do want to go on living happily, and perhaps you will love someone else just as much one of these days, but in an entirely different way.

 

My boys are married and live not far from us in the same city, yet there are weeks at a time when I do not see them or talk to them unless I call them up. I'm certain they love me and yet they are unconsciously negligent. I don't want to put it on a "duty" basis and I try every way to be the kind of mother a married man wants. What do you advise?

If I were you, when I wanted to talk to my boys or their wives, I would call them on the telephone and I would try to make some kind of regular weekly arrangement with them. Perhaps you could have lunch or supper together on Sundays, but do not make them feel that they can never break the engagement. Sometimes it is easier to do something that you can count on and know is going to happen, which will bring you together and keep the family spirit alive.

The young people are busy and have many interests of their own and it is harder for them to find the time to call you than it is for you to call them. I would not do it too often, but once or twice a week would show you are interested and want to keep in touch. However, it is a little difficult to advise people one does not know and where one does not set oneself up as Dorothy Dix!

 

What do you think of the Canadian plan for subsidizing families? Would you favor legislation in this country to provide monthly payments to families of low income or to families of all incomes to help bear the cost of raising families? Do you think income deductions for children should be increased?

If a country is particularly anxious to increase the birth rate, subsidizing large families would seem to be a wise plan. However, I think it would be much better to approach the question from a different angle; namely, to put a floor under earnings and try to see that no family earned less than was consistent with a fair standard of living. Of course I realize that some people will live better on a certain amount than others, but that is a question very largely of education. It might be possible to increase income-tax deductions for children, but that, I think, should be the same for rich and poor alike.

 

In the light of your son's recent book, were the relations between your husband and Prime Minister Churchill misrepresented as true friendship to the American people? If not, why has your son written at this time such tactless statements about the successful accomplishments of two great leaders?

I do not think you read my son's book very carefully. He explains that there existed between my husband and Prime Minister Churchill a warm personal friendship, and I have done this also in a column which I wrote on this particular subject. There can be a warm personal friendship between two individuals who, because of background and the circumstances under which they have lived, may have entirely different political beliefs, and very different approaches to the ultimate objectives which they wish to achieve through government. That, I think, was really the case where my husband and Mr. Churchill were concerned. As far as the war period went, each knew that the other was a good man, leading his people well and acting wisely to meet the needs of the war situation.

I think my husband understood and admired Mr. Churchill's patriotism and his devotion to his country. My husband had an equally patriotic devotion to the United States of America. He considered that the interests of the two countries were not always identical. There were political interests entering the war strategy here and there that were bound to cause some differences. Even more difficulties are certain to appear in times of peace.

I do not feel that my son made any tactless statements. He knew quite well where the areas of cooperation and warm affection existed and also where the difficulties lay and what caused them.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, January 1947

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Ladies' Home Journal, volume 64, January 1947

Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project

Digital edition published 2014, 2016 by
The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project
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