One particular episode gave Winfrey qualms: She had interviewed a group of skinheads rooting for the Klu Klux Clan, ultimately causing her to wonder if all she did was give them a forum "for their hate," she said.
Oprah says there's a very simple secret to success that helped take her own TV show to the next level (SAP)
In 1989, Oprah Winfrey's breakout talk show had only been on the air for a few years, and it was following what was then the daytime TV trend towards shocking content.
And then came a show that changed her life, in the form of an episode about why men cheat on their wives.
"Our producers were so excited, but they had convinced a man to come on with his wife and his girlfriend. Why that fool would want to do that, I don't know," Winfrey said during a talk to attendees of a tech conference in Salt Lake City, Utah on Thursday put on by software company Qualtrics.
The man shocked everybody by telling his wife that his girlfriend was pregnant on live television. Winfrey felt sick about it for the wife's sake, and felt that no one should be humiliated so publicly in that way. She vowed that she wasn't going to do this kind of confrontational format anymore, she said at the conference.
At the same time, Winfrey says, she read a book called the "Seat of the Soul" by Gary Zukav.
In it, Zukav talked about a law of physics: that every action equal has an equal and opposite reaction. And, he posited, before there is an action, there is an intention. It is this intention that determines why things turn out the way they do.
She realized: if a person doesn't pick a deliberate, conscious intention before they act, they will be acting out unconscious intentions. Either way, people will reap what they sow.
"Whatever you end up with, is what you started with as an intention," she said. "Getting that principal changed the trajectory of my entire life."
She told herself that her intention with her talk show would be to serve audiences "in terms of enlightenment as well as entertainment," she said.
She set an intention for every show.
Back in 1989, she told her producers of the new directive. They were less than thrilled, but she held meetings before each show and asked these producers what they wanted to achieve with each concept or interview they suggested.
One day, she did the same with her guest, she said. It was a mother whose daughter was killed by the daughter's boyfriend.
Winfrey asked the mother why she agreed to come on the show. The mother answered "because your producers asked me." Winfrey didn't let her off the hook with that, she said. She pressed: why did you say yes? What are you hoping would come of it?
The mother explained: all anyone wanted to talk about was her daughter's murder and how she died. "But before she died she had a life," and that's what the mother wanted to share: how her daughter had family, friends, and interests all her own.
Winfrey agreed, saying "I can do that for you." She told the mom that her intention was to show every teenage girl what an abusive relationship looks like, where it can lead to, and what it looks like to hide that abuse from your mom because you don't want to lose the boyfriend.
"That's the first show I won an Emmy for," Winfrey said. She's since gone on to win 16 Emmys and hosts of other awards and accolades.
And today, she says, she sets an intention for everything she does whether it is decorating a room or choosing which projects to produce.
Over the years she's learned that there's a key to setting intentions, too.
By serving other people with your actions, you become the best version of yourself, she suggests To set an intention that will bring you a satisfying result ask yourself: "How do I use this in the service of something greater than myself?"
When you do that, "it comes back to you 10-fold, 100-fold, in ways you cannot even imagine," she said.
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