There must be few people in the world who didnt feel a sense of loss on June 25 when pop icon Michael Jackson (1958-2009) died. Emotions ranged from great sadness to anger about a ‘life less lived and wasted talent. I dont want to focus on the controversy that surrounded his life and death, but to derive some learning from what fractured and tortured his soul and led to a life fraught with insecurity and unhappiness in spite of all his acclaimed success.
I believe Jacksons story has very powerful messages for teachers and parents involved in the world of children. Jackson seemed to want to hold on forever to a childhood that he had sadly missed. Perhaps thats why he endowed the Heal the Kids Foundation in 1992. The following is an excerpt from a speech he made in March 2001 at Oxford University, which throws light on his troubled childhood. It enables adults to view childhood through the eyes of a child.
Human knowledge consists not only of libraries of parchment and ink — it also comprises the volumes of knowledge that are written on the human heart, chiselled on the human soul and engraved on the human psyche. Tonight, I come before you less as an icon of pop, and more as an icon of a generation, a generation that no longer knows what it means to be children… All of us are products of our childhood. But I am the product of a lack of a childhood… Childhood has become the great casualty of modern-day living. All around us we are producing scores of kids who have not had the joy, who have not been accorded the right, who have not been allowed the freedom of knowing what its like to be a kid… Today children are constantly encouraged to grow up faster.
Friends, the foundation of all human knowledge, the beginning of human consciousness, must be that each and every one of us is an object of love. Before you know if you have red hair or brown, before you know if you are black or white, before you know of what religion you are, you have to know that you are loved…You probably have heard that I did not have an idyllic childhood. The strain and tension that exists in my relationship with my own father is well documented. My father is a tough man and he pushed my brothers and me hard, from the earliest age, to be the best performers we could be. He seemed intent, above all else, on making us a commercial success
The tragedy of Michael Jackson is that the man who wrote songs hoping to Heal the World could not heal himself; who told the world Youve Got a Friend, died alone. Jackson was never able to heal the fractured inner child within him, and went from surgery to surgery in an effort to create a ‘white face that he could love — in spite of his message ‘It dont matter if youre black or white — from one practice session to another, never happy with his performance, and finally to addiction to dull the pain of his deeply wounded inner self.
There is great learning in his journey and premature death, if we can hear his message. I constantly urge all adults involved in the care of children including teachers and parents, to heed a childs aspiration over their own parental sense of ambition”, and emphasise that the main purpose of being an innocent four year old is to derive the unique enjoyment of being four, rather than getting ready to become 25. Its also why I push for the right of children for a stress-free childhood with joyful education. Unfortunately, despite promoting the Heal the Kids Foundation, Michael Jackson was never able to heal the child within himself.
The lessons that parents and teachers need to learn from the tragic life of this musical genius are: learn to respect the right of children to their childhood; to joyful stress-free learning, unconditional love, and to lives in which they can align to their purpose of being” with our guidance, but without thoughtless interference and dictatorial command. I believe every child is born with a purpose, his or her own blueprint. Children should be allowed to enjoy their childhood, and grow into balanced adults living enriched lives. As teachers and parents we have a duty of care to nurture the natural interests and aptitudes of each child, rather than impose special knowledge or early preparation for vocations and trendy professions upon them.
In developing countries of the third world where children are often first generation learners, the teaching community has a greater responsibility to discharge than their counterparts in first world nations. We should nurture children to become aspirational by inspiring genuine love of learning and knowledge, rather than encouraging them to bag the most well-paid jobs. I believe that passion and purpose lead to success from which financial security flows automatically. The great psychologist Carl Jung was right on target when he observed that the greatest damage to the child is the unlived life of the parents”.
Thats the lesson from the life of Michael Jackson — singer, dancer, and entertainer extraordinaire, RIP.
(Lina Asher is the promoter-chairperson of the Mumbai-based Kangaroo Kids Education Ltd)