We are all products of our childhood

From a speech delivered by Michael Jackson, the American pop star, at the Oxford Union Society
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The Independent Online

As I looked around Oxford today, I couldn't help but be aware of the majesty and grandeur of this great institution, not to mention the brilliance of the great and gifted minds that have roamed these streets for centuries.

As I looked around Oxford today, I couldn't help but be aware of the majesty and grandeur of this great institution, not to mention the brilliance of the great and gifted minds that have roamed these streets for centuries.

I suppose I should start by listing my qualifications to speak before you this evening. Friends, I do not claim to have the academic expertise of other speakers who have addressed this hall, just as they could lay little claim at being adept at the moonwalk - and you know, Einstein in particular was really terrible at that. But I do have a claim to having experienced more places and cultures than most people will ever see.

And friends, I have encountered so much in this relatively short life of mine that I still cannot believe I am only 42. I often tell [Rabbi] Shmuley [Boteach] that in soul years I'm sure that I'm at least 80 - and tonight I even walk like I'm 80. So please harken to my message, because what I have to tell you tonight can bring healing to humanity and healing to our planet. Through the grace of God, I have been fortunate to have achieved many of my artistic and professional aspirations realised early in my lifetime.

But these, friends, are accomplishments, and accomplishments alone are not synonymous with who I am. Indeed, the cheery five-year-old who belted out "Rockin' Robin" and "Ben" to adoring crowds was not indicative of the boy behind the smile.

All of us are products of our childhood. But I am the product of a lack of a childhood, an absence of that precious and wondrous age when we frolic playfully without a care in the world. Childhood has become the great casualty of modern-day living.

All around us we are producing scores of kids who have not had the joy, who have not been accorded the right, who have not been allowed the freedom, of knowing what it's like to be a kid. Today, children are constantly encouraged to grow up faster, as if this period known as childhood is a burdensome stage, to be endured and ushered through, as swiftly as possible. And on that subject, I am certainly one of the world's greatest experts. Ours is a generation that has witnessed the abrogation of the parent-child covenant.

I would therefore like to propose tonight that we install in every home a Children's Universal Bill of Rights, the tenets of which are: the right to be loved, without having to earn it; the right to be protected, without having to deserve it; the right to feel valuable, even if you came into the world with nothing; the right to be listened to without having to be interesting; the right to be read a bedtime story without having to compete with the evening news or EastEnders; the right to an education without having to dodge bullets at schools; the right to be thought of as adorable (even if you have a face that only a mother could love).

You probably weren't surprised to hear that I did not have an idyllic childhood. The strain and tension that exists in my relationship with my own father is well documented. My father is a tough man and he pushed my brothers and me hard, from the earliest age, to be the best performers we could be. He had great difficulty showing me affection.

But tonight, rather than focusing on what my father didn't do, I want to focus on all the things he did do and on his own personal challenges. I want to stop judging him. As an adult, and as a parent, I realise that I cannot be a whole human being, nor a parent capable of unconditional love, until I put to rest the ghosts of my own childhood.

And that's what I'm asking all of us to do. Live up to the fifth of the Ten Commandments. Honour your parents by not judging them. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

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