See. Hear. Understand.

I don’t watch Oprah. I’m not saying I wouldn’t or would rather not, it’s just that I’m at work on most weekday afternoons. That said, this Oprah has something special going on and now that’s she’s in the last year of her show I’m starting to pay attention. What caught my ear the other day was a commercial promoting her final season in which she talked about the moment when she realized what her show was really all about; the moment she understood at a visceral level why she was doing what she was doing…why her work mattered.

She said that what she had come to learn is that all people (ALL PEOPLE) want three things:

1. To be seen.
2. To be heard.
3. To be understood.

And that her show existed to help the unseen be seen, the unheard be heard and the misunderstood to be understood. Simple. Powerful. Obvious. 

Oprah’s work facilitates the inspiration of millions by sharing the stories of other human beings who are trying to overcome, trying to survive, trying to move forward. And those stories compel us to act. Or do they?

What I wonder is if we have become so anesthetized by the proliferation of Oprah-style media that these “real” stories have become a substitute for our own experience. A way to spend a few minutes feeling virtually-authentic emotions before re-engaging the real challenges – the real messy challenges – of our own lives. It seems to me that a lot of empathy is spent on people we will never meet when the neighbor, family member, and teacher at our kid’s school goes unseen, unheard and misunderstood.

I’d like to believe that Oprah would be happy with a lot less viewers and a lot more people experiencing real emotion and real inspiration in the face-to-face interactions of everyday life. I’d like to believe that.

© 2010 David Berry

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