Most of the time, Oprah speaks from her heart, not her ego. She calls herself and others to live a more compassionate, giving and spiritual life. Check almost any episode and you’ll find her speaking her truth. But none of us is perfect.
There are many contributing factors that occurred behind the scenes, but ultimately the viewer experience for me of her initial interview with James Frey, writer of A Million Little Pieces, was one time where her communication was not authentic. She came to the interview with a plate full of judgment and made it all about her.
Her ego had been hurt and while she had many valid points, it was the way she engaged in the conversation that made it inauthentic when compared to her usual way of being. Oprah holds herself to high standards, which meant she eventually took responsibility for her un-Oprah-like interview and invited Frey back as one of her final episodes.
Initial conversations with someone diagnosed with cancer may not often be place where a listener’s agenda gets triggered, but it can happen. A few topics that tend to trigger judgment include:
- I told you so thinking…usually if someone has been engaging in a longstanding habit that doesn’t reflect choices around wellness such as smoking, drinking, drug use, overeating, not exercising, etc.
- Being a survivor or caregiver of someone who has already gone through treatment
- Choices around alternative therapies and approaches
- Decisions to stop treatment when it is no longer working
- Having extensive knowledge and expertise in cancer or wellness
I am often asked what the appropriate thing is to say to someone going through cancer. I can’t write the script as that wouldn’t be authentic. However, I can offer these guidelines:
- Listen first. Really listen.
- Come from your heart.
- Inquire as to how you can help or what they might need most right now.
- Remember it is not about you.
- Think like a coach – leave advice and opinions at the door because even if you have personally experienced cancer, each person’s journey has unique elements to it. Knowing we are not alone and we have support is different than being told “I know how you feel.”
- In time, in their own time, people often frame the experience in a way where they find meaning but philosophical tidbits like “everything happens for a reason” or “there is a gift in this” may feel dishonoring.
- Ground yourself in your intention which is to be support and love for anyone you care for who must face this illness.
And if you find you’ve unwittingly placed your foot in your mouth, follow Oprah’s example and take responsibility. Your friend or family member will appreciate it.