Updated: Feb 18, 2019
I spent the better part of the 1990s and early 2000s possessed by a great mystery. This enigma spoke to the heart of the human experience and carried within it the potential to unlock my understanding of humanity – and perhaps existence itself.
The mystery was this: Who buys Michael Jackson albums?
You might be thinking to yourself, “Wait a minute. What are you talking about? I buy Michael Jackson albums.” In fact, you may have even bought all of Michael Jackson’s work; you and millions upon millions of other people. Estimates vary, but over the course of his lifetime the King of Pop sold somewhere between 200 and 750 million albums. That’s a lot of vinyl, tapes, discs and downloads.
However, in the 1990s and early 2000s I didn’t know a single person who ever bought a Michael Jackson album after Thriller was released in November of 1982. (Come on, everyone bought that album…).
I’m not sure when the first time was that I asked the question, but sometime in the mid 1990s I became baffled by the idea that Mr. Jackson was still reportedly packing stadiums and enriching music moguls. For me, his music was something from my early childhood; along with my collection of parachute pants and sub-par breakdancing skills.
This enigma became kind of an obsession for me. In one social situation after another, I would occasionally ask people if they had ever bought one of his albums since the 80s. The answer was invariably no. In fact, I don’t think any of the people I asked knew anyone else who did either.
Who was buying all of these albums!? Was he only big in South Korea, India or Madagascar now? Because, I couldn’t find a solitary super-fan in North America.
My skepticism became so intense that I actually began to casually wonder if there was some sort of music industry conspiracy at work. Or maybe we were indeed living in the Matrix; some strange simulation with an algorithm that demanded that Michael Jackson must continue to be a star even though no one seems to buy or listen to his music anymore.
Fast forward several years. I had moved to a new community, a new job and was surrounded by new people. Once again, I made my usual inquiry in the course of conversation, “Really, who is buying all those Michael Jackson albums?”
Except this time, I didn’t get nods. The majority of the room literally looked at me like I was crazy. Most of the people in the room said something like, “I love Michael Jackson. I bought all those albums.”
What the…??? Had I fallen into a wormhole or alternate reality? Did Morpheus give me the red pill and I just didn’t remember?
This might seem like a trivial experience, but it’s wasn’t. It was a realization that I lived in a bubble.
This experience was oddly disconcerting. Through something as seemingly inconsequential as pop music, I realized that I had a complete mismatch in lived-experience with those around me.
They shared this small thing, their love of Michael Jackson music, in common. This was more than simply a matter of differences in musical taste. All of the people that surrounded me, who bought those mysterious Michael Jackson albums throughout all those years, shared a set of fundamental experiences with one another about which I knew nothing.
The admittedly small matter of music wasn’t the main issue. The real question was, in what other ways have I been sheltered, out of touch, bubbled-off from those around me? What other assumptions was I making about these new people around me that simply weren’t true, and were just based on my own limited set of experiences?
How much did I really know about my own bubble and the other bubbles around me? What else about their life stories do I fundamentally not understand, and might not even know exists?
If we’re in the business of serving and leading others, this is a huge thing.
Serving others means we are serious about becoming some small part of their lives. After all, you can’t become a part of someone’s life until you take seriously the need to get to know them. It means that we need to take the time to learn about their story, not just tell our own.
You need to know your bubble, and when necessary, let it pop.
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