OCTOBER 10, 1958
NEW YORK —I came away from the Soviet Union with an even deeper feeling that the Pavlov conditioned-reflex theories have a great influence in the formation of the character of Soviet citizens.
I revisited the experimental nursery in Leningrad which is run in connection with the Pediatric Institute and this time I looked with interest at the treatment of children from the time they come in. The general procedure is along this line: The youngsters are placed in a pen together at two months old. Attendants watch them all the time and talk to them. I would have thought they were kept too alert, but I soon discovered that their hours for sleep were long and that it was a calculated effort to awaken certain functions.
There is no question in my mind that the natural love of children, which seems so prevalent in all Russians, is what gives these little ones a sense of security. They are cuddled, they feel that there is warmth around them.
I had not before realized that their massage and exercises were started as young as two months, and I was interested to find that there was no compulsion here. A child is brought out and laid on a table and an attendant starts to massage and exercise this tiny bundle of humanity. If the baby's reaction is one of displeasure and he begins to cry he is removed at once, but if the reaction seems to be pleasant and the child is content, then his training begins. This in most cases results in a six-months-old baby who knows what is expected of him and who cooperates in these exercises!
Summing up this whole question of education, I think it is fair to say that the Soviets will tell you that they are experimenting, that everything they do is open to discussion. In fact, one does hear some criticism on the part of teachers and educators.
I would say that at present what I have seen was conducive to developing well-disciplined and amenable people. What may happen eventually, if the need arises to think and act independently, is difficult to predict. As with many other things we will have to wait and see. I believe that they actually are trying to prevent physical, mental and emotional disturbances.
I am often asked about the way in which spiritual needs are met in the Soviet Union and the only answer I can give is that the effort is obviously made in a Communist nation to substitute the state for the religious beliefs.
There are undoubtedly large numbers of people in Russia who still hold to their religious beliefs. This is evidenced by the fact that the churches receive no subsidy from the state for their upkeep. Apparently private individuals give what seems to be entirely adequate for the needs of the various churches.
I imagine the government takes for granted that as the older people die off there will be less and less active participation among the younger people in the various religions. It remains to be seen, of course, just what may happen and what the effect will be if this source of security for great masses of human beings is taken from them.
Now we come to a point that everyone of us must think about.
We believe in contacts among human beings because of the greater understanding created by these contacts and the hope that we will further the cause of peace in the world. As simple citizens of our countries without any power really to make the decisions or even affect the decisions on the part of governments in our countries, we devote ourselves to trying to get to know one another and to create good feeling. We try to form public opinion and to have some influence through the organizations to which we belong and through the expression of public opinion. But actually we must depend on the actions of our leaders in government for any real results that may come to keep peace in the world.
How distrust is to be changed into confidence, how peoples are to be brought to work together instead of surreptitiously trying to destroy one another is something that only our leaders and our responsible heads of state can really bring about.
Because of their form of government, the citizens of the Soviet Union do not even have any choice as to who shall be their leaders. We have a little more power as citizens of a democracy to demand that those who seek our support should give us a clear understanding of how they hope to bring about changes in the world atmosphere which may give us hope for peaceful world settlements.
In a democracy, also, the leadership must be expected to educate the people and give them the knowledge upon which they can form their decisions as to the type of leadership and programs they want in power. If our leaders fail us in this respect, the processes of democracy do not function.
The next moves in the poker game that has been going on among leaders of the great nations and any real fundamental changes in the future must come from our leaders.
And I say that we had better act while we still have strength on our side. I am convinced that we should begin to talk within the United Nations and in any other way that is possible. Such action may lead toward some real understanding not only as regards Communist China.
The leaders of the world must talk to one another or no agreements can be made.
So far the Arab leaders refuse to talk to the Israelis, so nothing happens in the Middle East that is promising for a real peace. The same thing is true of ourselves and our main adversaries.
Shortly within the U.N. the delegations will gather again to discuss disarmament, but nothing will come out of these meetings unless the great nations really mean through their leaders to reach some kind of action.
Let us bend our efforts toward insisting that we be informed as to what the real objectives of our leaders are and how they are proceeding to attain them. The people have a right to know. Everywhere the people want to know. There must be some way of translating this mass desire into moves that will strengthen the actions of our leaders in bringing about peaceful solutions.
(Copyright, 1958, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)
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About this document
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, October 10, 1958
Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007
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