In her first TV interview since leaving the White House over a year ago, Michelle Obama told Ellen DeGeneres that Americans who feel dispirited by the current state of politics should "lead with hope and not fear." The former first lady encouraged viewers to take care of each other, and stressed that although empathy and compassion are always important qualities, they become even more so during uncertain and frightening political environments.
"The thing I learned in the eight years that I was in the White House is that what we do every day in our lives, the good things that we do every day — and we know we do it — we show empathy, we care for each other, you know, we do have a lot in common," Obama said in the interview, which aired Thursday. "That’s what it means to lead with hope and not fear."
Obama encouraged stressed-out Americans to "forget what they’re saying in Washington," because "that’s not necessarily who we are."
"I would just encourage your viewers, the country, to do the things we do every day — to love each other, to take care of each other, to show empathy," Obama said. "And you can’t do that only when people make you feel good or safe. We’ve got to do it all across the board."
Although she's no longer in the White House, Obama remains extremely popular with the general public. A December Gallup poll found that she's the second-most admired woman in America behind Hillary Clinton.
"We have to be an open-hearted nation and that's who we are. And that's the truth of who we are. We can't lose sight of that. So, let's just keep living our lives like that every single day and forget what they're saying in Washington," Obama said. "We know who we are and I know who this country is."
The former first lady also noted that a lot of people are happy about the current state of U.S. politics, and cited this as an example of what makes America the country it is.
"People are afraid. But then there are people who feel good about the direction of the country," Obama told Ellen. "That's what makes this country complicated. Because it's made up of so many people from different backgrounds. I mean, we are this moshpit of society, and sometimes, there's a rub."
But Obama suggested that, even within that moshpit, there can be room for conciliation and respect
"I went out to towns and cities all over the place [as first lady], and even if people didn't agree with me or my husband, they were kind," Obama said. "They were hard-working. They were trying to do the right things every day. And that's what we have to remember about each other. That's who we are."
Obama has kept a relatively low profile since departing the White House, but she has made several public appearances. In May, she spoke at a health summit about the importance of nutritious school lunches, and implicitly criticized the Trump administration's decision to relax some of the nutrition standards for public school food that were established during her husband's presidency.
In March, Obama is scheduled to speak at the Women’s Foodservice Forum’s annual leadership conference, where she will discuss "workplace and other issues," according to Nation's Restaurant News.
As first lady, Obama founded the "Let's Move!" initiative, a program that promoted healthy eating and combated childhood obesity. She continued her crusade for good health habits during her Thursday interview, giving DeGeneres a tube of fiber supplements as a gift.
"To keep you flowin'," Obama said to DeGeneres, who accepted the gift silently with a look of faux-embarrassment on her face.