Yesterday, I listened for a bit to Terry Gross on her radio show “Fresh Air.” She was rebroadcasting segments of different interviews she conducted of people over the past year. I heard the one Terry did of Howard Stern last May. Now, this is a man who has put me off big-time with his sexism, crudeness, and narcissism, certainly not someone I ever voluntarily listened to. I remember hearing snippets of Stern’s radio show now and then several years ago due to others around me liking it, namely in two former workplaces. (Okay, I admit to finding something he said funny on *one* occasion that I can recall, about Tom Cruise and his then wife Katie Holmes. Otherwise, Stern grated on me.) And I certainly heard friends and family talk about him with understandable disdain.
So, I was heartened to hear what sounded like a relatively transformed Howard Stern talking openly to Terry Gross about him changing his nasty ways, thanks in significant part to entering psychotherapy some years back . While he didn’t directly apologize for his many years of sexism and self-centeredness on his show, he acknowledged how he has developed empathy and a clearer understanding of how his own narrow, sexist perspective was distorted and hurtful. He talked of saying things that have him “cringe” inside these days. He opened up about his grief-filled upbringing and how exploring it with compassion helped him to better understand the suffering of others, such as that of someone he interviewed, Stephen Colbert, who, like Stern, had a very depressed mother while growing up. He admitted to having narcissism and how it got in the way of him actually learning much from those he interviewed. Howard sounded sincere with his openness and insights. I was pleasantly surprised and even touched.
I’m certainly not about to start listening to Howard Stern on the radio. I honestly don’t feel interested at this time. And I don’t excuse him for his many years of crass, sexist, sensationalist on-air bombast. I don’t think Terry Gross– who I respect very much– does either. She rightfully, pointedly called Stern out on his disgusting, objectifying ways he spoke of women so often on his show. But, what I came away with after listening to this interview was a sense of both relief and hope. It is a relief to me when any prominent, powerful man in the public eye acknowledges his harmful behavior and develops insight, empathy, and compassion where little to none of any of these previously existed. I have no doubt Howard Stern still has a lot more healing and growing up to do, but I get the sense he is well on his way, however long that takes. Admittedly, I haven’t listened to his radio show to hear just how sincere and thorough he actually is with walking his talk. However, I imagine that, to some extent or other, Howard interviews from a softer, more listening place than he used to, like he says he does. (I suspect those of you who are mindful, can hold a broad perspective, and actually listen to him regularly can readily confirm or deny this.) Hope then arises in me that other men, and even other people in general, can and will change for the better even when wealth, privilege, and power tempt them into remaining complacent. Perhaps the Me Too movement is due some credit in this evolution of Howard Stern and, by extension, in other men, other people. I’ll quietly celebrate any positive change in someone, however small, wherever I come across it.