What Eleanor Roosevelt Thought About Criticism

"No human being enjoys being disliked, so it would be normal to try to avoid actions which bring criticism," Eleanor Roosevelt wrote in her November 1944 Ladies Home Journal column. You have a choice, she told her readers. Be a safe and dainty china doll on the mantelpiece. Or live as an independent citizen, come what may.

For her, the choice was clear. As she would later say, she "could not be content to take my place by the fireside and simply look on."

Plenty took issue with her. You work on causes that are not fitting for a First Lady, they said. You are too casual in your role. You travel and talk too much.

In her column, Ms. Roosevelt gave no apologies. To spend your life "thinking about 'what will be said' would result in a completely unprofitable and embittering existence," she wrote.

When Ms. Roosevelt was little, her Auntie Bye had looked her right in the eye and said, "Do not be bothered by what people say as long as you are sure that you are doing what seems right to you, but be sure that you face yourself honestly."

The advice had been fundamental to how Ms. Roosevelt carried herself in the world. "Live by your own judgment, tastes and conscience," she wrote in her column. She only paid attention to criticism if it came from a source she respected. Otherwise, she had cultivated indifference to it.

"If you cannot win people over, you still must go on your way," was her belief. Life was not meant to be spent in cowered fear of what others would think and say.

As she said years later on her 77th birthday, "Life was meant to be lived."

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CriticismCaitie Whelan