Esteemed Eleanor


In her book, You Learn by Living, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote about eleven keys for a more fulfilling life. I’m just getting to know who she was as a person. She was quite a prolific and thoughtful author with a voice of the times. She was the First Lady from 1933 to 1945 and was quite a public servant. This book was published in 1960 and she died in 1962.

Here are 5 of her keys that resonated for me:

In the chapter, Learning to Learn, Eleanor wrote, “Life is interesting only as long as it is a process of growth; or, to put it another way, we can grow only as long as we are interested.” And more emphatically, “You must be interested in anything that comes your way.

The advantage of this attitude as she saw it is “If we can keep that flexibility of mind, that hospitality toward new ideas, we will be able to welcome the new flow of thought from wherever it comes, not resisting it; weighting and evaluating and exploring the strange new concepts that confront us at every turn.”

In another chapter called Readjustment is Endless, she wrote, “Readjustment is a kind of private revolution. Each time you learn something new you must readjust the whole framework of your knowledge. it seems to me that one is forced to make inner and outer readjustments all one’s life. The process never ends.”

She made some interesting observations in the same chapter about age: “Every age…is an undiscovered country. We are constantly advancing, like explorers, into the unknown, which makes life an adventure all the way.” And a couple of pages later, “Whatever period of life we are in is good only to the extent that we make use of it, that we live it to the hilt, that we continue to develop and understand what it has to offer us and we have to offer it.”

According to Eleanor, a person’s ability to deal with setbacks in that life and be happy is directly related to how he or she manages her mind because “nothing ever happens to us except what happens in our minds”

In the chapter Facing Responsibility, Eleanor outlined a way to balance perfectionism with reality: “all choice, to some extent, must be compromise between reality and a dream of perfection. We must try to bring the reality as close to that dream of perfection as we can, but we must not demand of it the impossible. It is only an approximation that anyone can reach, but the closer one tries to approximate it, the more he will grow. If he keeps his dream of perfection and strains toward it, he will come closer to achieving it than if he rejects the reality because it was not perfection.”

As we near November’s election day, parts of the chapter, How Everyone Can Take Part in Politics, resonated for me: “The minimum, the very basic minimum, of a citizen’s duty is to cast a vote on election day. Even now [in 1960] to few of us discharge this minimal duty. By such negligence, such indifference, such sheer laziness, we discard, unused, a gift and a privilege obtained for us at gigantic cost and sacrifice.”

And if you wanted to take politics further, in the chapter called Learning to Be a Public Servant, Eleanor points out that learning to learn is a critical part: “To meet these new challenges [of change] we look for new ingredients in our public servants, an elasticity and flexibility of mind that enables them to change in order to meet changes, an alert and hospitable intelligence that can grasp new issues, new conditions, new peoples.”

After reading just one of her books, I’m impressed with Eleanor’s voice, her scope, and her depth. She seems like a real person to me genuinely concerned with and thoughtful about the issues of her time, which, like many, are issues of our time too.