If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

March 1947

 

I have found that there are difficulties when one tries to follow the splendid advice of Polonius: "This above all, to thine own self be true." Do you believe that, for a young wife and mother who wants to live at peace with her neighbors and community, it is sometimes wisest to avoid voicing a belief which, though she may feel strongly about it, would differ so from what is "accepted" locally that it would cause comment or worse? I refer to such things as race prejudice and topics involving basic ideas on labor and capital. Often I've been part of a group when these topics came up and, though I knew the futility of trying to change others' views, couldn't help speaking my own, leading me only into the feeling of being looked down on or set apart. For one who wants to live a quiet home life, do you think that the hypocrisy involved in keeping quiet is justified?

It seems to me that it is not hypocrisy to keep quiet unless you are asked a direct question. If you are asked a direct question, then I think it is better as briefly as possible to state your own point of view, doing it in as conciliatory a way as possible. If you live in a neighborhood where the ideas of your neighbors differ radically from your own, it is probably better for you and your husband if you try not to force your ideas down others' throats. Live your life according to your own lights and they will come to know how you feel, and in the end they will respect you.

 

What you have said about accepting Europe's displaced persons here is, theoretically, a very wonderful and humane suggestion. But, practically, where will we house them?

At the present moment housing is an extremely difficult question; but if we were to accept a certain number of people to go, into, let us say, agricultural work, I think we would find that the agricultural areas to which they were assigned on arrival would not find it too difficult to find housing. It might not be very adequate at first, but many of these people are handy with tools themselves and they might take some pretty bare barracks and make them livable.

 

A recent article by a former White House housekeeper stated that when Mme. Chiang Kai-shek was a guest at the White House she requested that the sheets on her bed be changed several times a day after each of a number of naps; thus greatly increasing the housekeeper's labor as well as the laundry bills. Is this true? I could not imagine an American-educated woman with the madame's democratic views being so pernickety.

I have no knowledge of whether this is true or not, but I do know that Mme. Chiang did not, as a rule, sleep in linen sheets during the day at least, but used her own crepe de Chine sheets, which were sewed over the blankets and folded in a particular way by her own private nurses. On almost every occasion when she was in the White House she was an invalid, and I would imagine that requests for sheets had come from her nurses and she probably knew nothing about it.

 

I envy you your disposition on being able to keep quiet when annoyed. In my case, I blow off my top. Then I'm sorry; and I don't like to do anything I'm sorry for, either. I have noticed that many people send you some awful digs. You answer them so nice and polite. How can you do it?

I suppose because they really do not annoy me. When you have lived to my age and have been in the public eye for so long, it is only the people whom you love who can really hurt or annoy you. You may be influenced by what other people say if you think their criticisms are reasonable and valid, but you do not get either hurt or annoyed. You also know that many things are said for political reasons or out of jealousy or ignorance or spite. Time disproves them and usually they carry little weight.

 

Don't you think some control should be established by the Government over freedom of the press when this freedom is abused and used for political propaganda to the extent it is in this country? What part can the individual citizen play in achieving this control?

I am afraid if we started trying to control the press, we might really do away with an essential freedom. It is true that this freedom is often abused, but I think the basis of democracy is that we educate people sufficiently well so that they can be trusted, in the long run, to judge political propaganda and the type of news that is slanted by certain types of interests. The individual citizen can best control the press by insisting always that the papers in his own home environment write uncolored news stories.

 

I am seventeen, a senior in high school, and have spent every one of my teen-age years in misery because of self-consciousness. I cannot look a person in the eye even to say "Hello" without getting a funny expression on my face, and to give an oral report in school is almost torture. Whenever anyone as much as glances at me, I feel as though he is criticizing me. This bashfulness not only causes me great unhappiness, but affects my marks. The one and only thing I am looking forward to in life is marrying and having a large family. I really love kids more than any other thing in this world. And I realize my dream will remain a dream if I do not snap out of this present condition. Please, Mrs. Roosevelt, is there any way I can do this?

Surely. If you will just stop thinking about yourself and being to think about other people, you can make them and yourself happier. You can help them if you can find something to do for them. If you like children, get some fun out of being with them and do not think about whether people are watching you or not. Believe me, when you think people are criticizing you, they probably haven't even given you a thought. It is remarkable how unconscious most people are about other people. If you can just remember that, in starting out to do the kind of things that any human being does who lets himself be natural, you will soon make friends.

 

If you knew that your children had been going through periods of unhappiness and felt that they suffered because of mistakes in your previous upbringing of them, how would you meet the thought? With what philosophy would you accept your share of the blame for suffering you would like to wipe out or alleviate but were unable to? How should a mother meet such thoughts?

I rarely have known children who, at some time in life, did not feel that they were made unhappy because of the type of upbringing that they received. As children grow older, they often realize themselves that their home had nothing to do with the unhappiness that may come to them. Perhaps you brought them unhappiness by the effort to prepare them for life. All parents, I think, feel that they haven't always been wise and that they are in some way responsible if their children suffer later on because of traits of character which might have been obliterated when they were young. The only way I think that parents can meet that is to accept the fact that no human being is all-wise; no human being always lives up to the best that he is capable of, all the time. Failures come to all people. It is sad if they affect those whom we love, but all we can do is to be very humble and, as we gain wisdom, try to help all those who suffer and show our children where we made our mistakes.

 

Is it true that you are a Catholic?

I was born a Protestant and I am still a Protestant.

 

I like a certain boy and I don't know what I can do to make him like me a little more than he does. Could you tell me what to do?

Not knowing either you or the boy, I am afraid my advice will have very little value; but I would advise you to be yourself, and if in that way you do not make him like you better, then you are just not very well suited to each other.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, March 1947

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
[ ERPP bio | VIAF | WorldCat | DPLA | SNAC ]

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 64, March 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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