Lessons from Eleanor Roosevelt’s “You learn by living”

It’s your life – but only if you make it so.

– Eleanor Roosevelt

I took a lot of insight from Eleanor Roosevelt’s book. Towards the end I lost interest a bit as she begins to focus more on politics, though her thoughts on this are worthy of a read – she makes some excellent points about our trend towards political apathy, something I am certainly guilty of.

I was surprised to find that the book offers a lot of advice on raising children and I wonder if it’s ever been recommended to people as a parenting book. It certainly has a lot of philosophical insight into raising children, if not practical information.The book is divided into eleven chapters, each one focussing on what Eleanor believes to be a key for a ‘more fulfilling life.’ Here’s my favourite quotes from each chapter:

  1. Learning to learn

“What counts in the long run, is not what you read … It is the ideas stirred in your own mind, the ideas which are a reflection of your own thinking, which make you an interesting person.”

2. Fear – the great enemy

“Do the things that interest you and do them with all your heart. Don’t be concerned about whether people are watching you or criticising you. The chances are that they aren’t paying any attention to you. It’s your attention to yourself that is so stultifying … Just stop thinking about yourself.”

3. The uses of time

“I think almost anyone would agree that unless time is good for something it is good for nothing. The most unhappy people in the world are those who face the days without knowing what to do with their time.”

4. The difficult art of maturity

“It is a major part of maturity to accept not only your own shortcomings but those of the people you love, and help them not to fail when you can.”

5. Readjustment is endless

“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 is and we have to offer it. The rewards for each age are different in kind, by they are not necessarily different in value or in satisfaction.”

6. Learning to be useful

“When one becomes absorbed in himself, in his health, in his personal problems, or in the small details of daily living, he is, at the same time, losing interest in other people; worse, he is losing his ties to life. From that it is an easy step to losing interest in the world and in life itself. That is the beginning of death.”

7. The right to be an individual

“The standards by which you live must be your own standards, your own values, your own convictions in regard to what is right and wrong, what is true and false, what is important and what is trivial. When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else or a community or a pressure group, you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.”

“Your ambition should be to get as much life out of living as you possibly can, as much enjoyment, as much interest, as much experience, as much understanding. Mot simply to be what is generally called “a success.” I am inclined to think that being a success is tied up very closely with being one’s own kind of individual.”

8. How to get the best out of people

“If you approach each new person you meet in a spirit of adventure you will find that you become increasingly interested in them and endlessly fascinated by the new channels of thought and experience and personality that you encounter.”

9. Facing responsibility

“Curiously enough, it is often the people who refuse to assume any responsibility who are apt to be the sharpest critics of those who do.”

“There is on point in regard to training the young to make their own choices and take responsibility for them which I feel needs some attention … Just as all living is adjustment and readjustment, so 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.”

10. How everyone can take part in politics

“Politics is the participation of the citizen in his government … Therefore, every single one of us must learn, as early as possible, to understand and accept our duties as a citizen.

The minimum, the very basic minimum, of a citizen’s duty is to cast a vote on election day. Even now, tot 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.”

11. Learning to be a public servant

“Politics can be dirty business when it operates on a low level. It can also be a profoundly stimulating business, when the appeal is to the best in human nature. It is, like all areas of human activity and experience, what we choose to make it.”

Have you read this book or any other of her works? Would you recommend them? What do you think about the quotes written here?


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