I watched Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Whitney Houston’s family last night with interest. I thought that Oprah would treat them with a great deal of care and would put their pain above the professional obligation to ask the hard questions. I thought that she would find a way to ask tough questions, but that she would do so respectfully. She didn’t disappoint. Oprah asked the family all of the questions I wanted addressed and she asked them of the appropriate people. For example, she didn’t ask Bobbi Kristina to address rumors of her mother’s erratic behavior. She didn’t ask that child to account for the reports of an altercation between her mother and another club patron. She asked her how she was doing. She asked about her fondest memories of her mother. She asked if she found comfort. Oprah established before she even talked to Bobbi Kristina that she was in a safe and loving environment. We learned that Whitney had even sent her daughter to live with her Uncle Gary and Aunt Pat for two years when she and Bobby Brown were experiencing difficulties in their marriage. I thought that Oprah conducted a good interview.
When the interview ended, I found myself questioning the inherent value accorded stardom. No one said anything particularly good about it. At one point, Oprah suggested that stardom can be a lonely experience. Stardom can also lead to the pollution of a person’s reputation as the Houston family sought to recover Whitney from this taint. It also disrupts privacy and makes personal challenges public affairs. To that end, I hope that Bobbi Kristina re-thinks her plans to keep her mother’s legacy alive by setting her sights on a career singing, acting, and dancing. It would be incredibly hard to cite her mother through her own songs without having to compete with her mother. Oprah suggested this as well but Bobbi Kristina seemed unfazed. In that moment when she responded to Oprah’s question about keeping Whitney Houston’s legacy alive, you could really see Bobbi Kristina’s youth. Young people think that they have to have definitive answers, but sometimes the best answer would be to simply say, “well, I’ll need to think about it for a while.” Spending time thinking is a worthwhile endeavor. Maybe we need to tell young people that more often. When I was a child, young people were always being told to go and think about something. Do people still give that instruction to young people? It doesn’t seem like it.
I don’t know too many young people who spend very much time trying to figure out their own answers. They seem to have accepted the idea that there is AN answer and they are happy to know what that is. Young people don’t seem to be the one’s saying “war is not the answer,” as Marvin Gaye claimed, thus challenging what was taken to be the solution. They don’t seem to be the ones saying “no, no baby, this ain’t livin,'” and having their own ideas about what livin’ is. I can’t deny that young people in the Middle East are the one’s asserting new answers for themselves, but this doesn’t seem to be the case for American youth. Do you think so?
I think that we need to place a greater emphasis on having young people spend time thinking and pointing out to them the eloquence of their efforts. I remember my grandfather asking me, “so what’s on your mind?” which led me to believe that it was natural and expected for there to be something under consideration. It was common then, and still is, for me to have conversations with people where we talk about things we’re thinking about and trying to figure out. I can’t help but think that this comes from being in an environment where you were trained to expect to be asked about your thoughts or to at least expect that conversations revolved arounds the puzzles you were working out in your mind. If you were to take reality television, talk shows, and magazine articles about life in American culture as a starting point, it would appear that conversations revolve around what people are wearing, where they are shopping, who they are dating (or sleeping with), perhaps where they are dining but almost never what they are trying to figure out about themselves or about the world. And honestly, when I read these articles and watch these programs, I feel incredibly grateful that I don’t know any of these people. Not only do they seem uninteresting, they seem unhelpful. The qualities of what it takes to be a good thinker also make you a good friend. Thinkers know how to be patient, how to listen, how to work through frustration. Thinkers know how to find perspective and so give it to others. Of course I could find value in a friend who shopped and slept around but if they couldn’t think, that friendship would have serious limitations.
I don’t have a single friend with a grammy or who has been interviewed by Diane Sawyer, but they know how to think and everyday this is becoming an endangered resource and so my friends become more precious. Since Bobbi Kristina’s mother was such an ethereal singer, I would love to see her daughter spend time thinking about preserving her mother’s songs as her inheritance. It would certainly be time well spent.