How a man on the Spectrum learns to live

The Man in the Mirror


One of the best things I ever did was to look in the mirror with a critical eye. This was difficult for me, being born on the Autism Spectrum, because I didn’t want to admit my own faults. But somewhere along the way, I found the courage to really look inside myself and use the critical thinking skills I was developing in college. When I finally was able to admit that I needed to improve myself, but didn’t know what to do or how to do it, I received a lot of support and encouragement that was essential for me to feel validated. I discovered that I was in the process of doing something that not many people, let alone Aspies, have the courage to attempt. That is, to admit weakness and faults, and become a better person because of them, not in spite of them. This is exactly what Michael Jackson asked people to do in his groundbreaking song “Man in the Mirror”. His words have great meaning because I was learning to live by example before I even understood the song. Knowing that I had to start changing myself to have a more positive outlook was one of the best lessons I ever learned from music.

When the song begins, Michael tells the world what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. “I’m gonna make a change for once in my life. It’s gonna feel real good, gonna make a difference, gonna make it right! As I turn up the collar on my favorite winter coat, this wind is blowing my mind. I see the kids in the streets with not enough to eat. Who am I to be blind? Pretending not to see their needs“. I needed to learn empathy for other people, which is very difficult for someone on the Spectrum. Of course, I also needed to not to become depressed or overwhelmed by the world’s problems. The best thing I could do was to find out where I could make a difference in my own community and be happy that I changed at least one person’s life.

The bridge then leads to the famous chorus. “That’s why I want you to know: I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. And no message could have been any clearer, if you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change!”. It was Ghandi who said it best when he said “be the change you wish to see in the world“. These lyrics were telling me that I needed to admit my shortcomings and not be ashamed of them anymore. By focusing more on my abundance of certain skills rather than my lack of other skills, I could be more positive and aware of the world around me.

The second verse and bridge feel like they were written for someone on the Spectrum, like me. “I’ve been a victim of a selfish kind of love, it’s time that I realize…that there are some with no home, not a nickel to loan. Could it be really me, pretending that they’re not alone? A willow deeply scarred, somebody’s broken heart, and a washed-out dream. They follow the pattern of the wind, you see, ’cause they’ve got no place to be. That’s why I’m starting with me!” I was guilty of being self-centered, desperately wanting people to notice me. Even when I was at my lowest points and wanted to take my own life, I was still thinking in a selfish way, not realizing how much I would hurt my loved ones by doing that. Today, I feel that no matter what happens, I can love myself enough to give back to others. I learned to love who I am and I’m able to share that joy with others and not keep it hidden inside. When the chorus repeats and goes into the breakdown, the song ends with Michael’s important final words: “Make that change”.

When I listened to this song critically, I discovered that I was doing the right thing all along and didn’t even know it. It was a beautiful moment when I realized that one of my musical idols was telling me exactly how I needed to grow when I was in the middle of doing so. I feel like I can look at myself and say that I have come a long way from being completely unaware. I am proud that I can tell people, especially other Aspies, how I learned to live passionately and engaged and that they can do the same. In order to change the world, I needed to change myself first. So, what do you see when you look in the mirror?

Today’s musical inspiration is Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”:


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