Oprah and the Bigger Picture


Yesterday on Super Soul Sunday, Oprah sat down with three of her favorite thinkers—Rev. Ed Bacon, Elizabeth Lesser and Mark Nepo—to deep dive into the news and look at the bigger picture. Using a different lens, this soul spiritual team addressed prescription drugs, gun violence, celebrity culture, gay marriage, and pets.

Prescription Drugs

The 2011 statistics are alarming: nearly 4 billion prescriptions were filled; 16 million Americans use painkillers; 5 million use sleep aids; and 18 million use antidepressants.

Oprah asked, “Do these numbers point to a collective hole in the soul of the country?

Rev. Ed was the first to respond. He revealed that he had experienced clinical depression and spent eight years in psychotherapy during his thirties. He carefully laid out a foundation of respect for anyone who has a chemical imbalance. According to Rev. Ed, these pills are okay if they help you enter life. They are not okay if they help you avoid life. Question to ask: Are you isolating yourself or living in community?

Elizabeth Lesser shared her marital problems and commented, “If I had medicated myself, I would not have had the courage to change.” Many people are replacing journeys of self-discovery with medication and choosing to stay asleep.

Mark Nepo’s wife also experienced depression. Mark thinks of medication as necessary aids and tools and strongly advocates psychotherapy which he believes is “attention to the soul.”

Gun Violence

With over 250 million guns in the United States, Americans are the most well-armed civilian population in the world. In 2010, there were 31,672 gun deaths; more than 19,000 of these were suicides. Unfortunately, it took the death of children to trigger a turning point in the gun control debate.

Rev. Ed believes that the Connecticut effect is here for a long time. In less than five minutes, 154 bullets emptied into the bodies of innocent children and adults. Elizabeth Lesser admits that we are hard-headed as a species and need big things to wake us up.

Oprah asked, “Why is arming ourselves so important?”

Mark Nepo believes there is an epidemic of fear and self-centeredness in our culture. People are arming themselves instead of facing their fears head-on. According to Rev. Ed, there is definite tension between the myth of the separate self and an understanding that we are all connected. He advised us to really listen to our adversaries and people who have a different perspective on the gun control debate.

Celebrity Culture

Oprah calls it the fallen celebrity syndrome.

Mark Nepo believes that people are obsessed with celebrity while quietly aching for things to celebrate. They want to pull people up so they can knock them down later. Rev. Ed referred to the shadow side of the celebrity syndrome. Many people prefer to avoid their own lives and project themselves in the scripts of others. Elizabeth Lesser suggested that when celebrities fall, people take comfort in the fact that everyone suffers in this life.

Gay Marriage

Public opinion has definitely shifted. In 1996, 27 percent of Americans supported gay marriage. In 2012, 53 percent supported gay marriage.

Elizabeth Lesser was educated through love. Growing up, she had no encounters with the gay population, but after nursing a friend with AIDS, she became more open and accepting. Rev. Ed believes that where you stand on this issue depends on where you sit Sunday mornings. According to Rev. Ed, gay marriage will enrich the institution of marriage. Everyone agreed that the institution of marriage was in trouble long before the advent of gay marriage.


Americans spend $53 billion annually on their pets. These animals bring delight, comfort and joy along with unconditional love and acceptance.

The three spiritual teachers were not surprised by this statistic. Mark Nepo shared an insight about the predominance of animals in Native American storytelling. An elder informed him that the Great Spirit, in his wisdom, realized that animals never forget their original instructions while human beings do.

Oprah asked, “Are we using our pets as a substitute for human interaction?”

Rev. Ed admitted this is the shadow side of having pets. They can keep us from the pain and messiness of human relationships. He ended on a lighter note by describing the Blessing Ceremony on St. Francis Day. When people bring their pets to church, they are really bringing more of themselves.


2 responses to “Oprah and the Bigger Picture

  1. What a great synopsis of the covered topics, Joanne! I haven’t managed to watch Super Soul Sunday lately despite collecting them in my TiVo queue. Perhaps your reporting here shall take the edge off my longing.

    These are all provocative topics. I read something in the past week or so that made me rethink my own position on “no drugs are better.” http://rachelwcole.com/2012/11/04/in-praise-of-zoloft/ I no longer believe one size or strategy fits all.

    I also think pets can be the crowbar to opening broken hearts. Unconditional love is profoundly healing and can help us become more connected to our feelings and to others. While it is easier to open our hearts to one who unconditionally reciprocates, it also builds our capacity to receive and give regardless of reciprocation.

    • I enjoyed listening to the three spiritual teachers and Oprah. In fact, I could have listened all morning to them discuss these provocative topics. Throughout the hour-long program, they stressed the need for more active listening on everyone’s part. I was especially interested in their comments on gun violence and prescription drugs, two topics that generate much controversy. Rev. Ed said it best: “These pills are okay if they help you enter life. They are not okay if they help you avoid life. Question to ask: Are you isolating yourself or living in community?”

      Thanks for dropping by, Christy 🙂

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