The personality question that has been dividing the Mamamia office this week.

Asked what she wished she’d learned earlier in life, Oprah Gail Winfrey once famously answered: “I wish I’d known how to distinguish radiators from drains.”

Yes, the talk-show legend is obscenely rich and probably hasn’t touched either since 1982, but don’t worry – she’s not going around tipping cold tea into her space heater.

It’s just another Oprah metaphor designed to help you “live your best life”.

Radiators, the theory goes, are people who exude warmth, honesty, positivity, enthusiasm. People who smile when they (or you) walk into a room, who inspire and motivate others. Basically, they’re folk who make life better for those around them – at work or at home.

Drains, on the other hand, suck. They suck energy from those around them. They suck time and attention. They’re mostly negative, and in constant need of reassurance.

When the analogy was raised by our People and Culture Team (which is a trendy, digital media way of saying Human Resources), our meeting – out of nowhere – imploded. The office was divided.

Speaking of workplace debates: Is botox good for your career? (Post continues…)

Some ate it up. Another life-changing serve of Winfrey wisdom, they said.

“I like it as a bit of a ‘check yourself’ moment,” said one fan. “It’s about holding yourself to account to vent, to let off steam, but not let it go on and on and suck the energy of those around you.

“It’s been a good metaphor for me – I think it’ll change my attitude to some extent.”


Others dismissed it as overly simplistic: “I find it problematic because I think it’s very important to experience the full spectrum of human emotions and value them equally.”

“The analogy is fundamentally flawed,” said another critic. “Drains serve an essential purpose. Without them, the place would flood… Oprah is wrong. There, I said it.”

Of course, as one editor tactfully pointed out, “Each of us is probably a mix of the two but the key is a) making sure you’re not more of a drain than a radiator and b) not being a drain at the same time as others.”

Logical, sure.

But because we all like to have a neatly defined sense of identity (hence the existence of those ‘Which kind of sandwich are you?’ Buzzfeed quizzes), most of us were in search of a third category.

An appliance/home furnishing/fixture to identify with that might land us somewhere in the middle. A warm drain? No. A kitchen sink? A radiator that hasn’t been serviced for a while? Or what about a reverse-cycle air conditioner?

We’re yet to nail it down. Any suggestions? Please share them in the comments below or via Facebook.

While you’re at it, let us know what you think of Oprah’s theory – agree, disagree, or go ahead and defend your drain/radiator status.

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