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What Self-Help Guru Tony Robbins Was Trying to Say

Tony Robbins (Wikimedia Commons)

Tony Robbins must have known immediately that he’d made a huge mistake in how he responded to a question about #MeToo.

Last month, at one of Robbins’s popular, sold-out seminars, audience member Nanine McCool told the self-help guru that she thought he misunderstood the #MeToo movement. You can see the entire interaction here, but Robbins focused on the danger of people feeling like victims and seeking to accuse others of wrongdoing.

Among the portions that have gotten him in the most trouble was this:

If you use the #MeToo movement to try to get significance and certainty by attacking and destroying someone else, you haven’t grown an ounce. All you’ve done is basically use a drug called significance to make yourself feel good.

Robbins attempted to put these comments in some context, going on to say, “I’m not knocking the #MeToo movement; I’m knocking victimhood.” He even praised Ms. McCool, agreeing that, while she was using the movement productively, many aren’t.

Yet it’s no surprise that Robbins has faced great criticism for this exchange. It was at best an inartful response — particularly for the 6′ 7 Robbins, who, while answering McCool, walked toward her and even pushed her backward (while encouraging her to push back). Not the best optics, particularly on the issue of sexual assault and given that McCool herself is an assault survivor.

Robbins’s central point, however, deserves more discussion. Presumably, Robbins’s recognizes that it is affirming for people who have been wronged — and subject to the kind of assault and abuse that appears to have been standard protocol of men such as Harvey Weinstein — to speak publicly about their experience, expose those predators, and prevent them from continuing to victimize others. However, there is a balance between encouraging people to share their trauma and supporting them in that process, and encouraging everyone to see themselves as victims and to focus on perceived wrongs in a way that is counterproductive for them.

Many have written about this potential overreach and the danger of #MeToo morphing from a positive force to stop harassment and truly bad behavior, to one that demonizes everyday interactions — from ill-conceived jokes to misunderstandings about romantic interests — that occur between flawed individuals.

Given Robbins’s long history of encouraging people to think positively and to overcome any obstacles, his comments could be understood in that context: Encouraging people not to dwell on the negative in their lives but to focus on making the most of the opportunities before them. It seems unnecessary — and to exemplify the negativity that he was warning against — to assume the worst about his intentions.

Tony has since apologized, saying in part, “I apologize for suggesting anything other than my profound admiration for the #MeToo movement,” adding, “Let me clearly say, I agree with the goals of the #MeToo movement and its founding message of ‘empowerment through empathy,’ which makes it a beautiful force for good.”

That’s undoubtedly needed clarification and wise public relations to admit that he failed to recognize all the good that the #MeToo movement has done. However, I hope he doesn’t (and we all don’t) shy away from the willingness to see and address the fact that there can be unforeseen consequences to movements such as this that can sometimes cause harm to the very people they are intended to help.

Too often, Internet mobs aren’t satisfied with someone admitting he or she said or did something wrong, learned from it, and sincerely apologize. They will only stop if the person’s reputation is completely destroyed.

In Robbins case certainly, that would be a mistake. Robbins is a force for good, encouraging people to see the best in each other and in themselves. That’s a message we all need to hear.

Carrie Lukas — Carrie Lukas is the president of the Independent Women’s Forum.

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