There are a lot of celebrations around Loretta Young’s 100th birthday—Turner Classic Movies has made her the Star of the Month; The Hollywood Museum has mounted a glittering, gorgeous exhibit that spans the years of Loretta’s career, from fresh-faced teen to grande dame; her loving family has scheduled a dozen exciting events scattered around the country, from film screenings to charity happenings that laud Loretta’s well-known humanitarian efforts. (Stay abreast of all the fun by visiting (and LIKING) Loretta’s offical Facebook page and learn more about Loretta on her official webpage: http://www.loretta-young.com/ .) Because I’ve been lucky enough to help some of these activities happen, I’m thrilled to bits that more people are being introduced to this wonderful star. But beyond the sparkle of Loretta’s undeniable glamour, there’s a beauty that’s far more than skin deep.
Loretta’s upbeat outlook and old-fashioned beliefs in God, goodness, and grace make her a role model for any woman who’s ambitious but doesn’t want to act like a rock star or a soap-opera diva. So, for the New Year, may I present a master class from Loretta Young on how today’s modern woman can discover the charms of controlling one’s emotions. Yes, you read that right. It’s time to zip it.
Flip thru the cable channels; how many sobbing, wild-eyed, screaming, reality-show denizens do you encounter? Flip again: bouffant-topped toddlers and their boorish mothers are having matching meltdowns. And here’s the latest episode of the back-stabbing, hair-pulling, name-calling, hard-nosed antics of the “real wives of somewhere-or-other.” Here are the late-night hijinks of the foul-mouthed, naughty-naughty comediennes who are apparently trying to outdo their male counterparts in coarse humor and vulgarity. Is there room today for the subtle, gentle charms of a true lady? I believe so. And a good first step in that direction (as you’re getting your sartorial act together—let’s all agree that a lady does NOT advertise goods or services across her fanny) is getting your emotional act together.
Do that, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the amount of power, respect and authority you can command IF you can command your emotions. So, let’s make a New Year’s resolution to see what it feels like to control yourself.
Keep calm and carry on
In her chatty little 1961 memoir called The Things I Had to Learn, Loretta describes an incident that left a big impression on her…and no wonder! She got to meet the King and Queen of England. She relates that this happy event was the first time she became “really conscious of what we’ll call budgeting one’s emotions.”
It was 1947, and one of Loretta’s most beloved films, The Bishop’s Wife, had been selected for the 1947 Annual Royal Command Film Performance in England. Loretta and her husband Tom Lewis were invited to travel to London to meet the King and Queen.
Loretta tells it this way; “I had kept my eyes on her throughout the entire evening and, female that I am, had taken full stock of what she wore. I really had to drag my eyes away from her fabulous jewels, said eyes never having before—or since–gazed upon such rubies! Then I began to watch her. She was everything I’d ever thought a Queen should be. I was sure there was something I could learn from watching her and, whatever it was, I didn’t intend to miss it. (Here’s some silent video of that meeting! How lucky are we to have this snippet!?)
“Of course, her charm was Queen-size! It was as exquisitely faceted and as fabulous as the rubies she wore. She spoke so graciously to me of the picture, of Samuel Goldwyn’s taste in the production, of Cary’s performance, of David’s—and of mine. But what really impressed me during all my watching of her that evening was that her dignity had no greater obvious ingredient than that she was completely unhurried.
“I knew that the maintenance of such an unhurried, unharried calm had to be the result of precise, inflexible, self-discipline. I remembered the newsreels I’d seen during the war of the Queen, serene, smiling, unhurried and unharried, standing beside the King on the balcony of Buckingham Palace the day after the Palace had been bombed, to acknowledge the cheers of their subjects and to reassure them.”
“It was easy for me to practice and use the visible parts of the lesson—to move slowly and calmly and control outbursts of speed provoked by the tensions of too-much-to-be-done…that required only a physical discipline. But to practice the disciplines necessary to keep my emotions under control was a horse of another color.”
Loretta continues: “Discipline and poise are the essentials for the conservation of precious time and energy. Uncontrolled emotion is as undisciplined and needlessly destructive as starting a forest fire with a carelessly tossed match. There’s no forgivable time to spend on the things that are profitless, the emotions that undermine our vitality and leave us spent and dismal.”
So, what does this mean to a generation that thinks NOTHING of bursting into tears on the street, screaming invectives at the drop of a hat, and cursing like a sailor on leave? It means you’re going to have to draw the line somewhere. You don’t really have to express EVERY emotion. Try just sitting on it for a few minutes. This will hurt at first and my generation, that was taught to “let it all hang out,” will feel it especially. But, after a while, you might find there’s incredible power in NOT showing your hand immediately.
You know how you’re at a meeting, and there’s everyone, panting to share their ideas and there’s ONE person who is just hanging back and watching it all? Ever noticed how the whole room tends to shut up and listen when that silent, thoughtful, observant person finally says something?
How to Stay Calm (This will take practice. Pace yourself)
Identify the emotion first: Is it jealousy, envy, anger, frustration, self-pity, shame, do you feel threatened or defensive, is there some self-loathing, helplessness, uselessness, wounded pride? You’d be surprised how much more power you have over an emotion once you’ve identified it.
Engage your compassion: Realize you’re not expressing that emotion in a vacuum. The Queen knew how important it was for her people to be calm, so she displayed her regal confidence. You can do the same at work as you encounter pesky types.
Make a conscious decision: Realize that you’re NOT denying the emotion you’re feeling, you’re just deciding how or IF you choose to express it.
Know your warning signals. It’s rare for someone to go from zero to sixty—usually, there are warning signals. You might: feel impatience, frustration, wandering attention (that’s you, trying to stop paying attention to the thing that’s angering you), maybe you pick or bite your nails, maybe your fingers or palms itch, maybe you start stabbing your pen into the desk or get an urge to start chucking things. In poker, these tell-tale body/facial twitches are called “the tell” and they’re a giveaway to a savvy body-reader. Pay attention to your own body language so you won’t be shanghaied by runaway emotions.
How to Carry On
Okay, you’re got something not-so-nice bubbling to the surface. What can you do to graciously stifle it?
Gracefully, subtly place your finger on your lips as a reminder.
Count to ten or take a walk to cool off—they’re classics for a reason.
Try to think of the consequences if you let ‘er rip.
Remember, you have no idea what someone else is carrying today. Empathy is the heart, seat, and reason of self-control.
Start priding yourself on your self-control. Say to yourself: “I’ve got this under control.” And watch it start to work.
Ban the (F) bomb
Bad habits often start with a healthy dose of peer pressure. In high school, if you didn’t tell dirty jokes or curse, you were considered weird. But I’m guessing most of my readers have left high school far behind them now. Are you still sounding like a refugee from the Bowery Boys? Some professional women might argue that swearing grants them cache with the Old Boys Club. Maybe.
Or maybe it is just one more confirmation that you are not now, nor will you ever be, part of that gang, no matter how many four-letter words or off-color remarks you make.
I’ve found that most adult males (a rare class in our society, I’ll grant you) do NOT like it when a woman swears or curses. They may smile or smirk, but something in their souls winces. Call me old-fashioned and hopelessly outdated, but I really don’t believe that a women’s cursing increases her social status. Professionally, it can hinder you. Personally, it presents an impression that your sights are set pretty low.
My ladylike mom called it being “common.” Sinking down to the lowest common denominator can result in your getting less than you’d hope for—and maybe deserve–in romance, in a job, in a group of friends.
When Loretta saw the Queen gliding about in majestic self-control, she experienced a legendary presence, with the traditions of centuries groomed into her. I’m not saying you have to go full-on Elizabeth, but how about we start by leaving the F-bomb to the adolescent hoards who find it amusing and start acting like full-grown women with a smidgen of class?
(Loretta’s trick to remind her foul-mouthed film crew was to put a “Swear Box” on the set. Every time someone cursed, they dropped quarter in the box. Up the ante to a buck and you might be buying that bucket-list Steinway or going to Hollywood to see the Loretta Young exhibit in no time!)
It might take some real self-discipline to demonstrate majestic consideration and ladylike calm, but give it a try. What’s the worst that can happen? Happy New Year, everyone!
And Happy Birthday, Loretta. 100 Years of Glamour & Grace, indeed!
(If you missed any of my previous lessons from Professor Young on her principles of feminine power, click here for the first class on Class, and the other 3 lessons. Enjoy!)
PS: Muchas gracias to my brilliant teacher daughter Keziah, who shared her wise “stay calm” strategies with me.