It's clear that Michael Jackson was an incredibly talented person who touched so many people. As Jews, we are taught that everything that happens in life is there to teach us something. What can we learn from the life and death of Michael Jackson?
As the reports surrounding the details of his life and death materialized, a picture of a desperate and broken man began to emerge. Although the story-line was so familiar, it nonetheless defied logic. Why do we so often see those who have it all, lose it all? Michael Jackson indeed “had it all” -- talent, fame, fortune, the love and admiration of most of humanity. What went wrong?
I remember from my counseling courses in college that one of the main characteristics of people suffering with addictions is a lack of self-love. In a healthy person, self-love comes from within; it nurtures a person from the inside, and allows him to experience confidence, happiness and a sense of meaning in life. Unfortunately, many people lack the healthy self-love that comes from the inside, and desperately seek out that love through external experiences and pleasures.
What are the mechanics of self-love? How do we nurture it, and how do we betray it? When our actions are congruent with our core moral beliefs, we foster an inner love and respect for ourselves. When we have a vision of what is true and good, and then see ourselves behaving in a way that is aligned with that vision, we respect, appreciate, and value who we are. However, when we behave in ways that contradict our deepest values, we experience shame. That shame chips away at our feelings of self-respect, and self-love. When we go against our inner moral compass, our integrity suffers, and we begin to deplore ourselves.
It is a simple truth that living a value-centered life makes one beloved not only to others, but also to oneself.
Michael’s life was filled with adoration from the crowds, yet it seems he didn't have a scrap of love for himself.
Sadly, all too often celebrities or other famous people fail to couple their fabulously successful public careers with an equally fabulous private life. The stories surrounding Michael Jackson portray a life filled with substance abuse, traumatized relationships, and a fixation on body image. The dissonance between a public and private life in conflict with one another is a breeding ground for shame and self-hate. Michael’s life was filled with adoration from the crowds, yet it seems he didn't have a scrap of love for himself.
Ethics of the Fathers teaches us that jealousy, physical desires, and honor-seeking remove a person from the world. The common denominator underlying is the flawed perception that happiness/fulfillment/love is somewhere out there.
Jealousy persuades us that if we only had that car, or his career or yet another plastic surgery, then we would be happy. An insatiable appetite for physical pleasures has us running amuck in addictions and compulsions whether in food, drinking, or drugs, hoping that it will bring us happiness. Honor-seeking: this is a rejection of ourselves as the true keepers of our own self-worth. In a bid for the self-love we so crave, we betray the love that only we can give ourselves, and seek its counterfeit form: approval from others.
Michael Jackson lived for his fans. Shmuley Boteach quoted him as saying, “I think all my success and fame...I have wanted it because I wanted to be loved. That's all. That's the real truth. I wanted people to love me, truly love me, because I never really felt loved.”
We are all prone to this trap, not just the rich and famous.
When we shift our focus from building our inner world -- the world of values, ideals, and spiritual aspirations -- to the outer world, we become prey to all the suffering that jealousy, physical desires, and honor-seeking can wreak upon a person. We are all prone to this trap, not just the rich and famous.
How do we strengthen our hold on our own inner world and keep our focus on value-based living?
The Rabbis teach us that before a child is brought into this world, an angel teaches the unborn infant the entire Torah. As the child is born, the angel strikes the baby on the lips, causing the child to forget everything he was taught. Why bother teaching the entire Torah, only to cause the child to forget it all?
The answer is that we don’t really forget. Deep in the recesses of our subconscious are the etchings of all the truth and wisdom that we will ever need to know. As we navigate our way through life, we toil to draw upon that deep, inner wisdom and act in accordance with it. This is the experience of having a voice of conscience; the awareness of a gut-feeling of right and wrong. The more we learn Torah and strive to inculcate its vision of greatness, the more we are able to align ourselves with that primal Torah that was taught to us in the womb.
This is also the key to experiencing greater feelings of self-love. When we live out our deepest values and morals, our actions are in alignment with our internal moral compass. From that place, we are beloved to our Creator and we are beloved to ourselves.
Some of us might have nicer material casings to our outer world than others, but everyone can have it all, in the real sense of the word. We can all live lives of incredible inner wealth, because we can strive for real greatness and live from a place of inner truth.