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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What Is Your Legacy?

Considering the attention drawn to the legacy of Michael Jackson, I find the controversy both interesting and, quite frankly, absurd. Notably, Jackson is a pop icon famous for his music-- writing, singing, dancing, and performance. Quite deservedly, he will take his place for innovation in the field of pop. On the other hand, Jackson is a figure of documented infamy and abnormal behavior. The "changes" in his actions, character, and appearance over his lifetime will remain as shadows defaming his status as a positive role model. Some claim he is a criminal and a child molester, more monster than king. In the wake of the publicity and grief over Michael Jackson's death, even the Congress is considering a rare honor. According to recent news sources, Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, is calling on Congress to recognize Jackson with a resolution as a "global humanitarian and a noted leader in the fight against worldwide hunger and medical crises" and celebrate the King of Pop as "an accomplished contributor to the worlds of arts and entertainment, scientific advances in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, and global food security." So, what will be the final legacy of Michael Jackson-- entertainer, humanitarian, world leader? I tend to think Jackson is, sadly, just another musical artist alongside the lost highway. Regardless of his incredible fame, he has joined the ranks of those before him ravaged by personal demons: Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown. Anything other than his music will be remembered with a certain sadness and reservation. Will the entertainer status overcome obstacles to his personal image? The word legacy seems to evoke positive images of greatness, yet a legacy is simply "something transmitted by or received from a predecessor." Other than money or personal property, most people leave, at best, a simple legacy quite undefined. Few consider building a legacy during their lifetime unless fame or fortune gives them access to incredible power and popularity. Even determined legacy builders must patch holes in their public image to maintain consistency of transmission. With the power created by the bold image and loud sound bite, few meek individuals will share their legacies with the masses. A question to consider is then, "What worth does society place on a person's legacy?" I guess biography and history books may help answer the question for those few who gain fame or notoriety. Yet, almost all people will not be read or remembered with detail two generations after their death. Their legacy decays with time until all traces of their goodness or wickedness disappears. Broad legacies are reduced to phrases, then to words, then to mere speculation, and finally to names on a piece of rock. Most people hope to leave their most admirable and valuable legacies to others that love them best: maybe some pleasant, loving memories for all people whose lives they have touched. Also desirable, people hope to be remembered by other casual acquaintances as basically good friends. And, finally, caring people desire to be thought of as Samaritans who help their fellow man. Unfortunately, like Michael Jackson, many struggle with image control in their personal lives. Clouded perspectives often create problems and turmoil for our relationships in the real world. Others see and hear what they prefer, not necessarily what is intended to be displayed. Interpretation and misinterpretation cause conflict and unrest while outright mistakes take their unavoidable toll. Soon, people learn to narrow their views and live with their own judgments of others out of personal pride and principle. In turn, any hopes of a decent legacy is diminished, so the subject sees little value in consistent behavior. In reality, I expect my legacy to my immediate family to be reduced to almost nothing. Certainly in terms of money or property, I leave virtually zero. Having reached no great accomplishments in life, I hand over no umbrellas of fame or popularity. My relationships have been shallow at best, and my mood swings have dictated rigid control or complete lack of it. As I lose friendships and trust, I find hatred has become entrenched deeply in the memory of others. I accept the blame; however, I cannot continue to accept all the consequences time has delivered, and will forever deliver to others. A bad husband, a bad father-- I may be. No, I don't think a great legacy is the worth of an individual. The judgments involved in the value of what is transmitted and the stature it brings to the deceased person calls for almost total clarity in evaluation of character. I, for one, cannot read the hearts and souls of others. To the living, legacy is hope and trust that others are going to respond in true kindness. Legacy is a dead man's game played by live people for their own self gratification.
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