This past Friday, after a day of business in Manhattan, I found myself in the enviable position of having scored a ticket to the smash musical Hamilton. Once I settled into my seat, the collective excitement grew as the clock inched closer and closer to the 8pm showtime.
Then, from a portal to the right of the stage, Vice President Elect Mike Pence and his phalanx of Secret Service agents strolled in.
And the audience lost its mind.
To be sure, there was a solid minority that stood and applauded, but for the most part, Governor Pence was greeted with sustained boos, several “you sucks”, as well as other far less polite suggestions which, as far as I know, are anatomically impossible. Just as Pence and his entourage hit their seats it was lights out and on with the show.
During the performance the audience leaned in hard with raucous applause when Hamilton and Lafayette sang “immigrants we get the job done!” And King George seemed to throw major shade Pence’s way during “What comes next?”, looking towards him as he sang “when your people say they hate you, don’t come crawling back to me.” The show momentarily ground to a halt as the crowd’s hoops and hollers drowned out the action on the stage.
By now, you have probably heard that during the curtain call Brandon Dixon Victor (the actor who plays Aaron Burr) directed a short admonition toward Pence as he tried to quickly make his way out of the theatre.
And then the internet lost its mind.
Being a very minor part of this weird little slice of history was both exciting and profoundly depressing. It WAS interesting and fun to have a front row (and rather expensive) seat to this unfolding drama. But the reaction of the crowd–and the wider world outside the theatre–only served to underscore how divided we are as a people and provided a harsh reminder that a radical shift in perspective and behavior is required if we are to avoid endless duels, many of which are certain to end badly.
So with apologies to Lin-Manuel Miranda, here is my version of the Ten Duel Commandments:
- If your skin is thin, stay out of the arena. There is such a thing as free speech. Don’t take everything personally. Learn the difference between hearing another’s truth and persecution or harassment. When in doubt, don’t post it on Twitter.
- Talk less, listen more. Our ego needs to be heard, to be right, to win. But projecting or amplifying our ego is the surest way to break connection. To build connection we must let the our “opponents” feel truly heard.
- Respect the other’s point of view. We don’t listen just to check it off our list. We listen to understand, to show respect, to challenge our own biases. But mostly to connect on a human level.
- There are few true enemies. Our perceived separation is not real. We truly are all in this together. I take no comfort from the hole being on your side of the boat. Most times it is our ego’s insecurity and isolation that causes us to create barriers and divisions that are not the least bit helpful. If there is a demon to be conquered it is most often our self-righteousness.
- Watch out for the belief test. When I find myself starting to decide whether I like or respect someone based upon whether they score well on my “good person” checklist all I know is I’m creating an us vs. them; I’m right, you’re wrong; I’m good, you’re bad, dynamic. That gives my ego a little hit, but it accomplishes nothing if I care about peace and progress.
- It’s okay to call bullshit. Just because we seek connection doesn’t mean facts aren’t a thing or that our strongly held beliefs don’t deserve being shared. Climate change is real, Obama was born in the United States, we really did land on the moon. Share THE truth and share your truth. Respectfully.
- Fear is a terrible engine and an even worse compass. There are times when fear keeps us from getting hurt or killed. However, most of the time our unconscious or irrational fear keeps us stuck in false beliefs that lead to self-flagellation, angry projection or both. If you are going to be dueling, best to understand your fear and not let it turn you into a bully or a heat-seeking missile. And if you can’t reasonably deal with your fear, best to take your finger off the trigger.
- Hyperbole is not the greatest thing ever. It’s hard enough to build connection when our fear is ruling the roost and when our differences are so pronounced and amplified. Stay grounded. Avoid catastrophizing and black & white thinking. When we go to extremes it tends to put others on the defensive. And the gap we need to close only widens.
- Put the hammer down. Lately it seems as if the only tool society has is a hammer and the nail we choose to hit over and over is the one that cuts the other side down. I’m hard pressed to find a time when that has worked. If you are are all about your ego and all about tearing down others, by all means keep swinging that hammer and keep pounding those nails. If you care about peace and progress, however, you might want to get some new tools.
- Rise up as necessary. On many issues, we must take sides. As Elie Wiesel reminds us “neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Seeking connection and following the other suggestions above does not mean rolling over in the face of intolerance, racism, homophobia or other forms of injustice or unacceptable behavior.
I’ll see you in the arena.
h/t to Deepak Chopra