Friday, 9 August 2013


Some of my best learning's have come out of watching the Oprah Show. However, most of it would be serendipitously, for the majority of Oprah’s shows didn’t interest me – from makeovers, the book reading club, some odd American celebrity that I didn’t know anything about, and then the episodes which I hated the most – Oprah’s giveaway programs where you just simply hated everyone lucky enough to be in that audience!.  Clearly it was mostly targeted mainly/ and only to Americans.

But for sure if there is one issue where Oprah can connect easily with the vast majority of her couch potatoes is on the issue of weight loss, and that was one which I loved over the years.  Her advice has changed over the years as new discoveries would come about – and in the meantime, however, the battle of the bulge continues for me.

Anyone who has been a little familiar and ‘open’ to Oprah would have seen the evolution of her ideas since her show began. Initially a great deal was sensational discussing everyday newsworthy topics (dating, appearance, celebrities etc.). This then moved and evolved to helping viewers’ lives better. One of the first shows which I absolutely loved and succeeded in earmarking this a show to watch out for – was one about kidnapping.  An expert helped parents in watching out for trouble, as well as what to do in these cases, how to train your kids etc.

And around the same time Oprah started to bring in spiritual leaders, and I think that really transformed her show. Earlier a lot of this great talent, some exceptionally gifted minds and souls would be on the book circuit possibly talking to morning shows or news channels or doing a book signing tour.  They would have like a small segment of around 4 to 5 minutes and little could they do to bring the essence of their learning's out.  Oprah however changed this.

Not only would Oprah hunt out this spiritual guru, but devote an entire, sometimes a series of episodes to the topic.  The real achievement would be when Oprah would make this easily digestible  ‘soul food’ (philosophy and spiritual topics are the toughest subjects).  A lot of her guru guests would be a little taken aback by this black girl who seemed so excited about their book, and seemed to indulge her. But a few minutes into the discussion you could see the guru wake up as s/he could figure out Oprah knew what she was talking about, and what this would spark off some of the liveliest discussions.   This would result in a lot of ‘light bulb’ A-HA moments when you stumbled upon some great insights and connect you.

Similarly I think the achievement of Oprah really was in discovering, highlighting and providing a platform through her show for a lot of great talents. This could be Dr. Oz or Suze Orman or Nate Berkuss, Dr. Phil and now Dr. Deepak Chopra

I never enjoyed easy access to the Oprah show as my local stations rarely broadcast her shows, plus this was mostly daytime.  When I started watching this with some regularity when I was on a break, it would surprise me how even the other shows would be so insightful.   For e.g.  some celebrity discussions would give you a new insight on how to cope with problems, or how to raise children etc.

A significant achievement also was how she unified the people who had suffered in life and helped them cope with their difficulties much better.   This was not limited to just obesity. One of her best programs was where she interviewed a Doctor who had lost her children when her estranged deranged husband entered her home and shot all the children and then himself.  The Doctor was explaining in a plain voice what helped her cope with the tragedy and how she had moved on.  Seems simple? (well, it was moving but not earth-shatteringly so).  So when Oprah did a follow up show after a few months – where at least five different persons came out to thank this doctor for saving their lives.  Most of these were planning to end their lives but when they watched this show it totally inspired them – if the doctor could cope with this loss and move on, there was hope for all of us.   I remember seeing this episode too and realising how different things that the doctor had mentioned had connected with me at different levels.  By sharing her grief and her story she had united a lot of us who were going through with our difficulties and showed there was hope.

What We Can Learn from Christine McFadden's Family Tragedy
It was one of the most heartbreaking and gut-wrenching stories ever told on The Oprah Show. In 2004, Christine McFadden discussed the worst day of her life: the day her ex-husband murdered her four children while she was out for a morning walk. Watch her appearance and learn how finding meaning in even the smallest things can help someone cope with the unimaginable.

As she entered the last year of the show, she had launched a ‘YOUR BEST LIFE’ series where she did a weekly panel discussion to help viewers plan the year ahead. Every week different topics from weight (of course!) and health to finance to sex and spirituality were discussed.  Each involving the experts (Dr. Oz, Suze Orman etc.).  This was when the global recession was at its depth and there were a lot of Americans homeless, jobless and restless.   I think her programs really made some difference in helping folks at least bring some sense to the troubled world.   All her experience and learnings across the last two decades of doing the show seemed to come out best in these discussions.  I personally felt she was the best in terms of connecting with and helping viewers – far better than the other spiritual leaders she had got across in the panel.  During troubled times I found her advice more real, far-reaching and providing some resolution to our troubled minds. (in fact, surprisingly Suze Orman’s programs in fact were among the most revealing in terms of spirituality and making life-choices on what really mattered to us.)

There are a lot of achievements and one of her biggest to me was how she bridged the gap between the races.  I think Mandela and she are great examples of forgiveness and conciliation and that is very, very inspiring. 

It was also disheartening and heartbreaking to learn she was to end her show after 25 years.  (and when the announcement came, I did hope to be part of the audience of at least one show, but just couldn’t make it). 

But luckily for us Oprah continues to do her special show.  She carried out one in India which mostly was lacklustre except for one outstanding discussion with Deepak Chopra (It seemed ironical that both flew down thousands of miles to a fort in Rajasthan to have that one hour discussion).  That discussion was one of the best ones with lots of goose-bump moments and some that simply sucker-punched you with fabulous insights.

I could write and discuss about Oprah forever, and it feels very frustrating that however much you could write would be inadequate to describe the life force that Oprah has been in helping us be a better person and lead a better life.

So this ‘gratitude diary’ is in fact a small tribute to Oprah who encouraged all of us to start writing gratitude diaries.  And gratitude also to her first mentor who enabled this little African-american girl to join a radio station giving her first break in media, there was no stopping her after that – for that sir, we are forever grateful.

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