10. What's Wrong with Our World
I recently came across an intriguing documentary that is now showing in various parts of the United States called I AM. It was directed by Tom Shadyac, a Hollywood director whose previous work includes some very successful comedy blockbuster films such as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Nutty Professor and Bruce Almighty.
In this film however, he sets out to explore the answers to two very important questions: What's wrong with our world and what can we do about it? I believe the answers to those questions can be found by looking at the way Michael Jackson was treated during his lifetime.
He was one of the most successful and influential recording artists of all time, with estimates of 750 million records sold worldwide. His achievements are too many to name but the records he holds in the Guinness Book of World Records give a small glimpse into the success he achieved:
Guinness Book of World Records
In addition, Michael released thirteen number one singles, more than any other male artist and was the first black artist to have a video aired on MTV.
Source: World Amazing Records
He obviously had an amazing ability to achieve extraordinary success which very few people are able to accomplish. Whenever someone is able to achieve that level of success people take note, and the ones who want to ride their coattails aren’t far behind.
Although his accomplishments are amazing, what they did is made some people view him as a product instead of a human being, allowing their hearts to close off to him, creating a lack of empathy that permitted them to feel justified in lying, criticizing, condemning and using him for their own monetary gain.
"I am bewildered at the length to which people will go to portray me so negatively." - Michael Jackson
His extraordinary success also caused him to become the target of extortion attempts. In an interview with Deborah Kunesh, creator of Reflections On The Dance, David Nordhal, Michael’s personal painter and friend of 20 years said, "Michael would get between 50 and 60 extortion attempts per year. Most of them were paternity. Women claiming that Michael was the father of their child, and a whole bunch of other ones were over music. Somebody had written a song or something and they claimed that Michael had stolen their music or their words. All of those things got thrown out of court because once they got to court, they couldn’t back it up." The worst of the extortion attempts were the ones who used his love of children against him to accuse him of horrific acts.
"The more I spoke with him about the alleged molestation charges, the more firm I became in my belief that they were part of a universe of money-making opportunities created by charlatans." -Thomas Mesereau
In the May issue of the MJTP magazine, Dot to Dot: Keeping Michael’s Legacy Alive, Valmai Owens, Editor-In-Chief, interviews Thomas Mesereau about the upcoming trial of Conrad Murray for the death of Michael Jackson. Mr. Mesereau is the trial lawyer who successfully defended Michael as his lead counsel in the 2005 child molestation trial.
When asked what he would consider his greatest achievement in his career to date, Mesereau said, "Well, first of all you have to understand that every life is valuable; I don’t value one life as more important than another life, so whether the case is high profile or low profile, a life is a life. So when I save a life, it’s just as important to me whether the person is rich or poor, or known or unknown; valued or not."
That comment made me realize why he was brought into Michael’s life to defend him, because he was able to see him as a human being. Michael Jackson wasn’t a product that was going to make Tom money; he was a father, a son, a brother and a man who just happened to need Mr. Mesereau’s help in that moment. I can’t help but wish the same insight would have been present in the professionals caring for him during the final weeks of his life.
"I’ve followed too many celebrity cases, Elvis Presley, Anna Nicole Smith and you find these physicians become enablers. They’re afraid to deny the celebrity what they want for fear that they’ll be out of the fold, and it’s something that I think law enforcement has to take very seriously." – Thomas Mesereau
Enabling is a subject I have become intimately familiar with. On June 26th while I was in California for the one-year anniversary of Michael’s death, I found out my 19-year-old son had developed a problem with addiction. I was devastated. I never, ever thought this would happen.
As a result, I was thrust into a world I never knew existed and boy, did I learn a lot. People from all walks of life, all cultures and all educational types of backgrounds become addicted to all types of substances.
I was introduced to the concept of enabling while he was in treatment. Enabling is defined as "to make possible or easy." In the case of someone who has an unhealthy dependency, if you’re making it possible or easy for them to remain dependent on that substance, then you are taking away their power and ability to heal.
My son’s counselor helped me understand the power an enabler holds and the devastation they can cause when he started to identify enabling actions. Realizing I had done some of them I said, "I do those things out of love." His reply? "You’re loving him to death." In that instant I got it. I stopped being an enabler that day, thus giving my son back his power to heal, which he did.
If Michael Jackson had a problem with addiction or a dependency of any kind, and since I didn't know him personally I am in no position to know or say, then what he needed in that moment of his life was to be treated responsibly and given back his power to heal. If he developed a dependency on medication in order to sleep and Murray continued to allegedly provide and administer it to him under those circumstances, especially in the reckless way he did, then he was an enabler whose actions resulted in disastrous consequences and he should be held accountable.
In response to Valmai’s question about his greatest accomplishment Mesereau went on to say, "My greatest accomplishment has been my ability to blend the practice of law with charitable work." He does things that are good for the soul. He believes that lawyers should give back to the community, and he believes that he can make a difference in the world by doing so. He sees every human being as valuable, no one more special than the other, regardless of what they have accomplished.
I haven’t seen the film I AM yet because it hasn’t come to my hometown, but my response to the question What’s wrong with our world? is that a lack of empathy has created a lack of regard for our fellow human beings. We haven’t come to recognize the importance of making people feel like they matter. A lack of heart has created a lack of compassion. If you’re living with a closed heart it makes you feel justified in tearing others down. It becomes easy to participate in man’s inhumanity to man, lying, criticizing and condemning those who seem different.
A letter Michael wrote to his critics in 1987.
The message that is being sent through the lies, the deceit, the criticism, the condemning, the using and the enabling of another, is that you don’t matter. You’re feelings don’t matter; your integrity, your dignity, your reputation, your health, your well-being and your happiness don’t matter.
In response to the question: What Can We Do About It? I believe the solution lies in developing our ability to have empathy for others. The President of the United States, Barack Obama, said "Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world." If Michael Jackson would have been given more empathy maybe he would still be here with us today.
We have to be conscious of how our actions affect another person, taking care to treat them as a human being that matters. We have to be able to stand in their shoes so we can see what they see, hear what they hear and feel what they feel, which will give us the capacity to act compassionately and responsibly toward them.
We also have to treat ourselves as though we matter by doing things that are good for the soul, making a difference in the life of someone else, giving back to our own communities and maintaining our own sense of dignity by respecting ourselves and others.
We have to put the heart back into humanity so humanity will live with heart. When that happens, I believe we will all begin to understand what Tom Mesereau already knows: that every life is valuable.
Director of Community Development
Michael Jackson Tribute Portrait
© 2011, Linda Higgins, All Rights Reserved
To read the full interview with Thomas Mesereau CLICK HERE.
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