How a man on the Spectrum learns to live

Posts tagged ‘Michael Jackson’

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”:


“I Like Lovin’ This Way”

In my Aspie life I often find myself listening to music that resonates with me. What songs resonate with you?  Well, one song that I enjoy every time I hear it is the poetic Michael Jackson ballad “Human Nature”.

Back in 2003, I bought the 20th Anniversary Edition of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album.  It was the first time that I listened to the album in its entirety.  I had heard several of his more famous hits on radio and TV, but this was the first time I felt like I could hear all the music that was meant to be heard by truly appreciative fans and collectors.

When I played the CD through and through I heard a song that contained smooth, well-crafted lyrics and a resonant organ.  I could not help but make a mental note of it; it was track number seven: Human Nature.  The first time it ever passed my ears, I thought it was somewhat of an artistic departure from Michael’s earlier ballads.  In the past, there was always somewhat of a strolling back beat that would make me sway in a well-timed flow to the rhythm.  Naturally, someone like me who has been singing since the age of five would also sing along once I learned the lyrics and was confident enough to feel the song.

Well, I heard “Human Nature” and it seemed to glide into the vision of a man using the lyrics to artfully craft a song around his innermost desires.  I couldn’t put my thoughts into those exact words, but the spirit and intention lingered in the back of my mind.  The more I listened to the song, the more I developed a different perspective because I was listening with my head and heart.  I began to feel like I was the one confessing that “four walls won’t hold me tonight.”  I pictured Michael being trapped in the “box” of convention and conformity and connected that with my own crazy ride of a life with autism.

“Electric eyes” began to symbolize the stares of people who are so tied to the “machine” of cultural and societal preconceived notions that they can’t help but think what they think and say what they say because they don’t know any better.  I used to feel like “electric” eyes were staring at me because I was so insecure about having autism and I felt like I was misunderstood.

Can you imagine what it feels like to hide something from the world, living with the fear that everyone can see it no matter what you do?  It took me a long time, but I feel like was able to turn off the stares by finding the confidence to embrace who I am: a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome and a voice for others in the same boat.

Responding with “tell ‘em that is human nature” is a way of saying that these feelings of reaching out and loving somebody that you care for are natural and should be embraced.  Sometimes people get stuck in their old ways and don’t know how to move away from them.  In my opinion, you need to deal with them; I say this from personal experience.

I feel like because I’m different in a lot of ways, I’m trying to say that I have normal human desires fueled by an artistic personality.  If some people don’t understand, then I tell that it’s “Human Nature.”  I’m living life from my heart and I feel great about doing so.  Even after the sudden, tragic death of Michael Jackson, this song continues to resonate with me.  I guess we all have to find our own musical poetry to express inner desires.  At least that’s what I think.

I feel like this song was written about me.  These lyrics were my inner feelings put to words, words that I didn’t have before.  To finally have a way to describe my feelings was so invigorating I could finally feel like I would be understood.  “Human Nature” has become a lyrical expression of my artistic soul and autistic mind.  I listen to it and sing it with a renewed passion and confidence that I never thought I would have.  I feel as though I’ve embraced my humanity and I’m grateful to the magic of Michael Jackson’s music for helping me do so.