I was watching Oprah at the gym today and she gave a new house to a family. The mom in the family had lost both arms and legs shortly after giving birth to her second child, the dad had just been laid off. I cried, but I was also a little annoyed.
I was annoyed for the same reason that I get annoyed at the “Problem Solver” column in the Chicago Tribune. The column where people write in with horrible customer service/business problems and the Trib guy solves them. But here’s the thing, the Problem Solver guy never gives any advice to the rest of us. He never asks AT&T or United Airlines what the rest of us who get stuck in a customer service nightmare should do. He never even seems to ask the business if they’ll change their policy.
Obviously, when a nationally syndicated columnist calls you, it’s better business for you to just give the customer what he or she wants and get the columnist off your back. But, that doesn’t mean anything has actually changed. That doesn’t mean that the whole system isn’t still broken.
It also doesn’t mean that the Problem Solver will solve YOUR problem when you get stuck in the same situation. He hasn’t solved THE problem, just A problem.
Which brings me back to Oprah. Today’s guest contracted a flesh-eating bacteria in the hospital while giving birth. Um, shouldn’t we have a system in place that helps people in this sort of horrible situation? Shouldn’t there be a way to help a disabled woman and her out-of-work husband without resorting to a multi-billionaire TV star saving her? Can Oprah save everyone in this kind of horrible situation? What if you only lose one arm to a flesh-eating bacteria, will she still save you? What if you lose both arms and legs, but don’t have the requisite chipper attitude? Will you still get help?
Everyone has fantasies of Oprah discovering what he/she does and making him/her famous. Almost every place I’ve ever worked has had at least one “how do we get on Oprah” meeting. Those dreams are great, and obviously for some people they actually happen.
But maybe having that fantasy taken away from some of us will be a good thing. Maybe it’ll make some of us actually do a little more to fix things that are broken or to make our own dreams come true.