Michelle Obama’s simple way of dealing with negativity is a lesson we can all learn

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Felicity Thistlethwaite
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Michelle Obama talks to Stephen Colbert in London

“Lead by example with hope - and when they go low, we go high,” former First Lady Michelle Obama told Stephen Colbert and 15,000 others at London’s O2 Arena.  

When Michelle Obama comes to town, it’s a big deal. And her latest appearance was nothing short of amazing for the 15,000 people who packed into London’s O2 Arena in the heart of the city to hear the former First Lady ‘in conversation’ with The Late Show host Stephen Colbert. They were, of course, discussing Obama’s book Becoming. 

The book, which was released just before Christmas, somewhat unsurprisingly topped bestseller charts across the globe and brought in an eye-watering £7.7m in sales in the UK. And in the US last winter, Becoming publishers Penguin Random House reported the book sold more than 2 million units “across all formats and editions in the U.S. and Canada” during its first 15 days. 

She’s a popular woman, and it’s not the first time we’ve fangirled over Obama; last year Stylist editor Susan Riley gave us the 12 things she learnt from Michelle Obama from her London Southbank appearance.

But, on this cold spring evening, it was the former First Lady’s stance on dealing with negativity that resonated with the audience so wildly, it brought about an overwhelming round of applause.  

Michelle Obama on stage
Michelle Obama in conversation about her book Becoming

As Colbert had rightly pointed out, Obama suffered more than most during the campaign trail back in 2008. How did she deal with that public negativity, he asked. 

She simply said: “When they go low, we go high. Lead by example with hope, never fear.”

The former First Lady added: “I had to sit with [negativity] and experience what that did to me and what it meant. I had to steady myself in it. I had to learn to adjust my voice.

“If you don’t take control of your message and your image and your voice - someone will do that. It was an important lesson for me to learn. I could’ve rolled up my matt and gone home - but it was another challenge.”

She added: “I could either succumb to that or be steamy and say, ‘I’ll show you’.

“I worked my tail off as First Lady.”

Obama flitted with great ease from discussing negative press to cracking dad jokes about her husband Barack. (Apparently, just because you’re the former President of the United States doesn’t mean your teenage daughter’s friends will think you’re cool. Whoda thought it?)

And she spoke fondly of her late father – whom she cites as one of the biggest influences on her life. 

Such was the intimacy of the evening, Obama even joked about her family’s security unit teaching her daughter to “floor it” on her first driving lesson - at Secret Service HQ, no less.

When Colbert pressed her on the value of hope over fear, Obama said: “Hope is a medicine and fear is a drug.

“This trepidation and anxiety is all over the world. It’s unreasonable that we, as a world, can go through this transition without some fear and trepidation.

“Get to work, don’t be complacent and don’t be so cynical and turn off. We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines.”

Four snippets of handy advice from Michelle Obama

Watching the news

When asked if, since leaving the White House, she still watched the news on TV Obama laughed. She said: “When I am not able to deal with it, I turn it off. I only let that stuff in when I’m ready.”

Social media

The former First Lady revealed she does have a Twitter account, but she doesn’t read what’s happening across the social platform. She said: “Don’t read about your neighbours on twitter - someone can feed you lies and misperceptions.

“We need to get to know each other and not have our interactions filtered through some third party. We don’t know what their agenda is.

“We have to be sceptical about media social.”

Negative words

While Obama is certainly, and positively, to-the-point in her manner, she pays close attention to the way in which she speaks to people. She told the audience tonight: “Negative words have a lasting impact. We have to understand, as adults, we have the power to lift up kids or crush them.”

Everyday people making big changes the world

Colbert opened up the floor to questions from Twitter, one of which was: ‘How can everyday people make big changes in the world?’ Obama took a moment to answer this, but said: “A lot of people think change can only happen on the big stage. There is no one who has a monopoly on kindness and truth.

“We have an obligation not to lose faith in the possibility of being better. We have to do it for our kids. They deserve a world that is full of hope.”

If you’ve been left wanting more former First Lady inspiration - and let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to hear more from the incredible woman - the Stylist team rounded up Michelle Obama’s best and most inspirational quotes.

Images: Getty


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Felicity Thistlethwaite

Felicity Thistlethwaite is the executive editor digital at Stylist.

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