Heather Hansen

Oprah Left Us Hanging

Recently, at The Golden Globes, Oprah got a standing ovation for her rousing speech. These are the words that brought the audience to their feet.

“Which brings me to this: What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I’m especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories. Each of us in this room are celebrated because of the stories that we tell.”

But Oprah left us hanging–HOW do we speak our truth? And WHICH TRUTH do we choose to speak?

The second question comes first. We do get to choose our truth, and Oprah knows it. She’s one of the people who taught me so. I watched her show like a disciple at the altar, and listen to her podcasts for insight, inspiration, and comfort. Almost every guest on her Soul Sunday podcast reminds us that we get to choose our truth, and that is where we find our power. One recent example was her guest, Shawn Anchor. He is a positive psychologist, and the author of Before Happiness and The Happiness Advantage. When Shawn sat down with Oprah under her giant oak trees, he was so compelling that I immediately bought his books. And in the book Before Happiness, he offers this exercise. Ask yourself “what is work like for you right now?” and write your answer on a piece of paper. Then, using only true statements, offer an alternate description of the same situation. Finally, write a third version of the story.

In my twenty-one years as a trial attorney, I’ve seen juries choose their truth in every case I’ve tried. One attorney tells one version of the truth, the opposing attorney tells their version. The jury then chooses the story that is most compelling. This has taught me that the truth can be chosen. It happens in courtrooms every day.

You get to choose your truth, and the story you tell. That’s your magic power. And it can change everything.

I’ll give you an example. My friend called me the other night, enraged. His ex-boyfriend was cheating on him–again. They’d been together for 14 years, and shared a lot of love but also a lot of drama. His boyfriend had cheated before, multiple times, and eventually my friend had enough. He ended the relationship, in part because he suspected that his partner was having yet another affair. Months after their breakup, his suspicions were confirmed when he saw the happy couple kissing on Facebook. (The story social media tells deserves its own blog).

My friend was obsessed. He wanted to investigate their affair, discuss it with anyone who would listen, and confront his ex. Finally, I had to push back. “Is this your story?” I asked him. “Because it seems to me that this is HIS story. Your story is your new job, where you are kicking butt and taking names. Your story is that guy who flirts with you every morning in Starbucks. Your story is how healthy you’ve become since you broke up, how much less you drink and how much more you laugh. You keep telling me his story, or the story of you being a victim. I think there’s another story to tell here. Your choice.” My friend wasn’t ready to give up the truth of the affair right away, and that makes sense. Sometimes we have to tell the story of our hurt to heal. But knowing that we have a choice can sometimes compel us to make that choice, and to choose a better story.

One thing I know for sure is that words matter. The words you choose to tell become your story, and your story has the power to change you. We can be the cameo in someone else’s story, or the star of our own. Our choice. So yes, Oprah, speaking your truth is a powerful tool. But I’d disagree that it’s the most powerful one that we have. Choosing our truth–that’s the tool we can use today to build a better tomorrow.

Heather Hansen

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