If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

November 1947

 

In a recent issue of the JOURNAL, you expressed the wish that Protestantism had fewer denominations. In view of your very fine, fair and versatile character, has it ever occurred to you, as it did to the great Cardinal Newman, who was a high dignitary of the Episcopal Church, to delve seriously into the teachings of the Catholic Church, feeling, as he did, that, after all, Rome might be right?

In the course of my life I have heard much that is good of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, but there are certain things that I would find very difficult to accept and for that reason I think I will remain a Protestant during the rest of my life.

 

I will soon be seventeen years old and my parents won't let me have dates. They always want me to go along with them. It seems as if they don't trust their own child. When I go without them, they want me to take my kid sister along. How can I get them to understand it is my life, and I want to have some fun?

Your parents probably enjoy your company and want you with them and do not realize that you have reached an age where you want a life of your own to some extent. I doubt very much if they do not trust you. They are trying to safeguard you from being talked about unkindly and they know that if they are with you, or if your younger sister is on hand, no one can say that you did something which you did not do.

At seventeen, however, it is understandable that you should want to have your own dates, and I think probably the best thing is for you to have a talk with your parents, explain the situation to them and learn from them what are the rules they want you to observe and then go ahead and have fun.

 

How do you answer when people who are obviously serious-minded and concerned say to you, "Of course we're going to have another war in two years; we're going to have to fight Russia"?

As a rule I say, "Well then, if that is your conviction, you are, of course, prepared for annihilation, since any war from now on means the beginning of the end of the whole human race."

There are very few people who have thought through what a war would mean. That, I think, is because we at the moment are the only possessors of the secret of how to make the atom bomb and we feel that we could annihilate others and go on living without suffering any ill-effects ourselves.

However, if an atom-bomb war is to be successful we must use the atom bomb first and it must be an undeclared war. Russia is a very large country and her people are better able to defend themselves against attack in an atom war than we would be. We could reduce them to a point where they would not recover for many years, but in doing so we would start a chain of hate against ourselves, and suspicion and fear throughout the world, because no people would know when they would be our next victim.

Our prosperity is dependent upon the prosperity of the rest of the world, and the minute we begin to destroy their property there is less prosperity for us. That is a lesson we had better learn and remember. When you hear people talking thoughtlessly about "war with Russia," or "the next war within the next two years," the best answer, I think, is, "You are preparing for suicide."

 

You wrote that you attribute your great energy to the fact that many years ago you learned how to relax and to be disciplined. What, exactly, do you mean by "disciplined"—allowing yourself to feel only constructive emotions, or what? And how do you learn to relax?

Physically I think the simplest way to relax is to lie flat on the floor or on a bed without a pillow, with one's arms at one's sides and one's ankles crossed, and then sink into the floor or the bed, letting go so completely that anyone can pick up a leg or an arm and it will just drop back without any effort on your part to prevent it. At the same time you must think of something so monotonous that it is practically like keeping your brain from working actively. You will find that fifteen minutes of rest in this way will be equivalent to a much longer period in which you toss about and think of the things which may have worried you.

Discipline is a bit more difficult to describe. I think it is the quality which makes you realize that things which happen in life have to be accepted and faced, that there is no use in kicking against the pricks. If you have done your best you can do no more, and so you are at peace with yourself and your surroundings. The person who hasn't learned emotional control when he is young will find it harder and harder as he grows older to control his nerves and his emotions. This is an important part of a child's training, but of course life teaches people who haven't acquired it when they are young and most of them have to acquire it later on. That is much harder and means greater suffering to the individual. Probably the thing to learn is to face yourself honestly in relation to other people and to the situations in which you find yourself.

 

I am a secretary and was unable to go to college. Now I wish to further my education at night school. I want to study a foreign language. Which one do you consider most practical for the average person?

The choice of a foreign language depends so much on the kind of work you intend to do. If your connections are inside North and South America, Spanish and Portuguese are two important languages. If, however, you want to deal with Russia, the Russian language is important, or Chinese if you want to go to China. For the main part of Europe, English and French are practically interchangeable, as so many people are learning English now and those who do not learn English nearly all know French.

 

Is there any way I can make myself a real unit in my husband's family? Four years ago we were married after a two-years' courtship and one-year's acquaintance with my husband's parents. They heartily approved our marriage, but now seem to want to antagonize. My husband says his mother tells him to "assert his authority as a husband over me" and "make me join his church." How should I meet such situations? I think families should be happy together and strongly united, but it breaks a girl's heart to know someone is trying to come between her and her husband. What can I do?

It is very difficult to answer your questions because there are so many contributing factors. Religious differences are always difficult, and if it is possible for you to join your husband's church, I would certainly do so. Of course I realize there are may be some fundamental differences in belief, which make that impossible. In which case, I would try as far as possible not to argue about the situation.

Former generations thought much more about the word "obey" in the marriage service than we do today, and it may be that your mother-in-law is jealous if your husband is happy with you and forgets to write to her, or leaves too much of the contact between his mother and his own family to be made by you. Husbands have a way of doing that, and unless a mother is unselfish and understanding, it is very hard for her to take. Be patient and try not to make a break—then I think it will work out.

 

Did your husband, the late President, have a favorite place from which he chose his Christmas tree each year?

No. We always had a Christmas tree from our own place, but my husband usually chose it from the area where he felt trees needed cutting. We received Christmas trees in the White House as gifts from other parts of the country. The big tree we had in the East Room always came as a gift and was always very beautiful and deeply appreciated.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, November 1947

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 64, November 1947

Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project

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