What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.
– Oprah Winfrey, 2018
It feels like a statement that Oprah has told us many times before and in many different forms and forums.
But those words had a searing and very specific timeliness on Sunday night when she delivered them amid so many other meaningful words, statements, stories, anecdotes, admissions and proclamations during a history-making acceptance speech at the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards.
The speech was literally historical because she became the first Black woman to ever receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award from the Hollywood Foreign Press. This is a career honor given for outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment and as such is really the HFP’s equivalent of a life achievement award.
But more spontaneously historical were the honest, eloquent and ultimately optimistic thoughts she shared amid the tumultuous events the country has faced over the last year.
In one speech on one sort of significant but certainly not earth-shattering awards show Oprah managed to:
– Effectively address the legacy of sexual harassment in not just the entertainment industry but in all industries throughout the country.
– Laud the leaders and participants in the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements (Note: Dedicated to bring individual harassment stories out of the closet and help ensure new programs and laws are put in place) while revealing small personal pieces of her life and those of other far less powerful women who came before her.
– Proclaim that the press is under siege and reiterate its value firmly, definitively – and yet – without any trace of malice towards those who might not share in those feelings.
– Read the riot act about a culture broken to brutally powerful men who made sure women were not heard or believed if they dared speak truth to power that — THEIR TIME IS UP.
– And somehow convincingly proclaim to all of the rest of us that a new day IS on the horizon thanks to a lot of magnificent women in that Hollywood ballroom of entertainment industry notables AND some pretty phenomenal men without even the slightest whiff of cultural elitism or hysterical blue state angst.
No wonder Twitter almost immediately erupted with trending phrases like #OprahForPresident, #Oprah2020 or — even more simply –- just #Oprah.
Though don’t take my word for it. Listen to the whole speech here (and no, at nine minutes it’s not THAT long):
Up until last night there was not a chance in the world – or anyone in the world for that matter – that could get me to believe Oprah could, would, or should become president.
And yet there are few Americans in public life today – meaning the new Trump reality and our serious/quite perilous red/blue state divide – that can even begin to bridge the gap and speak to EVERYONE.
Is she a politician? No. Does she have that kind of experience? Uh, uh. Has there ever been anyone with her type of experience in the job? Certainly not. Can a billionaire from a deep blue state really even begin to appeal to the majority or even plurality the country?
Well, when was the last time you asked all of those questions?
And how right were you then?
In less than 10 minutes Oprah spoke to the hope and promise of the United States in a way we did not hear from one candidate through the entire presidential campaign nor a single day since. This is because she spoke words written not for her but by her and about her.
Even if she had some help from a speechwriter (Note: I suspect after four decades on television she didn’t need one) what we listened to when she spoke were a few honest personal truths that became universal, a handful of simple facts that told a clear story rather than meandering down a path of confusion and self-righteousness, and a collective call to action that we could all work towards to create a better tomorrow that felt possible.
Oprah didn’t accidentally stumble into this territory. She has that rare ability to communicate because she understands both the facts and the feelings they create among the people they affect. More importantly, she knows the story she is telling and builds a pyramid of both in order support it. She is then able to drop out what’s unimportant, emphasize what is, and DELIVER IT all in a manner we can both understand AND appreciate
The delivery part is essential. There are many, many smart – and perhaps even smarter – people and politicians out there but few who innately know how to stand before the world as themselves and effectively talk to the public (nee US) about anything important.
Not sell us, but talk to us. Truthfully. And leave it to us if we want to buy into what they’re SAYING.
Yes, there are those who can talk to us. Others who can sell to us. And a handful in public life who can do both effectively. But Truthfully? I can’t think of any.