06/23/2010 10:13 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Using Michael Jackson's Legacy to Open Can of Whoop Ass on Youth Work Ethic

If you consider that the first president I really remember is Ronald Reagan, you're reading this and probably thinking, "She's just a baby." I can picture that blue folder (which may have been co-opted from my sister) I had with individual cameos of the faces of all 40 American presidents (Reagan's was bottom right) sitting on top of my desk (next to the Trapper Keeper), next to the small chalkboard in the corner of the family room with the beige carpet (pre-flood -- years later, the carpet was a 1989 shade of hot mauve), where I spent many happy hours playing "school."

As children, we are fed knowledge and our sense of the world through a variety of sources; not only the shape of our environment and experiences, but also our parents, siblings, teachers, books, technology, and media. Sometimes these versions of the world are watered down -- for space issues in a textbook, or time concerns enforced by an impatient parent or a television program slot.

For example, when children learn about Andrew Jackson, the 7th president of the United States, they learn about his bravery at the Battle of New Orleans, and his westward expansion of the American frontier. As soon as they recognize that it's his mug shot on the $20 bill, they aspire to having a lot of Andrew Jacksons in their piggy banks and later, wallets. Most of the time, Andrew Jackson's support of slavery and polarizing policy on removal of the Native American Indians are ignored or simply glossed over.

This Friday, June 25th marks the one year anniversary of the death of Michael Jackson, another polarizing figure in his delebrity (dead celebrity). If you look at an imaginary intersection of circles on a Venn diagram (stick with me here), you might see "Circle A: 'All people think Michael Jackson was an amazing, talented, creative musical singer/dancer genius, and that his music is wonderful,'" or "Circle B: 'Some people think Michael Jackson was really talented, even if they weren't crazy about his music.'" At another end of the spectrum you might have "Circle C: 'All people, even if they recognize Michael Jackson was really talented, think he exhibited bizarre behavior and/or was inappropriate with children'" or "Circle D: 'Some people think Michael Jackson was really talented, but have questions regarding his bizarre behavior and/or interactions with children.'" Perhaps we have a Circle E for people with no opinion whatsoever; let's not get too hung up on logistics.

I honestly don't care which category you fall into; it's not worth our time and energy to debate this subject any longer. Let us hope the best for his children, and for those who find his musical legacy and philanthropy inspiring, let us hope they use this as fodder to continue moving forward in their own artistic creations and activism.

What I am interested in is doing not a little bit of revisionist history per se, but a little Andrew Jackson number on his brother with the same surnamesake, Michael Jackson. Take a look at Kenny Ortega's documentary, This Is It, compiled from the footage of Michael Jackson's preparation leading up to his series of concerts that were to be held in London in July 2009.

Look at the nonstop patience, gratitude, and professionalism Michael exudes and extends to his colleagues and collaborators at all times. Look at how he rehearses over and over and over again until he gets it right, and how he never complains or whines that he's too tired, or it's too difficult. Look at how his attitude encourages everyone around him to deliver. If you are among the people who believe he was inflicting serious damage on himself with too many drugs at that time, consider that thought and how, if this is your Venn diagram of what you believe to be true, he certainly didn't let it affect his work. Even if he was "phoning it in" or holding himself back while in rehearsal mode, the exteriority of the verisimilitude in his performance far surpasses most people, even on their best day.

Let's hold this legacy of the passionate, hardworking Michael Jackson up to today's youth all over the world and open a can of whoop ass on the massive, pathetic atrophy of their work ethic. We are plagued by an entire generation of youth with an incredible command of their own sense of entitlement. In the summer of 2006, I had to spend 7 weeks working part-time outside of the office. When I told my subordinate he would have to take on a new responsibility to cover for me in my absence, he replied, "But what if I don't want to?"

Every child, every person in this world, even without Michael Jackson's innate talent or the money brought to him through fame, can become great -- a great teacher, a great administrative assistant, a great Volvo technician, a great volunteer, a great banker, a great plumber, a great computer engineer, a great friend. Let us tell these children about Michael Jackson and say, "Are you willing to work this hard for what you want every day? Are you willing to invest the time to learn what you need to learn, to say 'yes' to every possibility and every opportunity, to go above and beyond what is merely 'expected'?"

Let's sweep the inquiries surrounding pedophilia charges, bizarre behavior, and marriages under the carpet, and let the music, dancing, philanthropy, and above all, hard work, and the striving for perfection live on, and say to our children, "Yes, you are right, 'We Are the World.' It's time you take a look at the 'Man in the Mirror' and think about what you're going to do about it and how you're going to contribute. Because it's a choice. And your decision, whether you see it or not, affects everyone and everything around you." These lessons are invaluable and their reward is infinite, worth far more than one green Andrew Jackson.