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What Not Liking Hamilton Taught Me About Arguing on Social Media

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It was a lark, really. Rhetorical misdirection. I had no agenda other than being cheeky, and hoping someone would think I was funny. So imagine my surprise when I wound up with a blueprint for how we all can most constructively engage social media when interacting with those who hold different views than we do.   

The occasion? The relentless barrage of posts that tsunamied my Facebook page in the days leading up to, and following, the 4th of July. What I kept reading from my friends prompted this post from me Tuesday morning:  

“I know I will be flamed for this, but with what I've seen in my newsfeed every day for the last week or more -- not to mention the previous few years -- it's time to speak up. I just can't hide my thoughts forever while everybody else piles on. I feel like I'm suppressing a critical part of myself by not just up and saying what I believe, so here goes: I have never had the slightest inkling to want to see Hamilton. On stage. On Disney+. On anything other than a 10-dollar bill.”

I was after nothing other than a few “ha-ha” reactions in response to my effort to make my friends think I was going to blast out a controversial political/ideological statement plucked from the menu of culture-war options gobbling up headlines these days. What I got was civil, reasoned, persuasive dialogue in which people who were passionately for something I was not tried to convince me otherwise. Such discussion is the Sasquatch of social media -- we’ve heard stories it’s out there, some people even claim they’ve seen it, but we’ve never caught a real, live glimpse of it ourselves.

There have been, as of this typing, 86 comments exchanged among 31 people – myself included. Only a handful are from friends who share my expressed disinterest in Hamilton. Even fewer are jokey. Just one is remotely political. The rest are honestly and earnestly trying to convince me I'm wrong -- rather than merely telling me I'm wrong. Some of that, no doubt, comes from the less-than-heavy nature of the subject; this is, after all, “only” entertainment. But most of it, I think, is folks really hoping to help me see what they believe to be the error of my ways – not to make themselves feel "right" but because they truly think I'll be better for it if I come to their side of the aisle.

How is it we can have this kind of mature dialogue about a play, while we still tear each other to ribbons over those weightier matters I tried to hoodwink my friends into thinking I was going to address?

I have no answer for that. But I do have three tips that might help us right the opinion-sharing-and-shaping ship if we’d apply them to those more serious matters of culture and state.

1. Lean into what you know about the friend with whom you disagree in formulating your appeal. One friend, a former colleague from my newspaper days, said this: “As a wordsmith, I’d think you’d marvel at what was created.” It wasn’t flattery, but an acknowledgment of my love of words that signaled I’d find that love displayed in Hamilton. That brought me a tick or two closer to giving it a shot. Another ex-colleague offered that “The more I watch, the more I am reminded of Shakespeare, and it's not a farfetched comparison. Looking at the rap as the kind of poetry Shakes did is exactly the way good Shakes actors interpret the bard live.” Another tick.

A third friend, a fellow Chicago Cubs fan, asked me to consider the issue from this perspective: “Imagine if you had never seen (Cubs star first baseman) Anthony Rizzo play baseball? Think of the joy you would have missed in life. Now, take it on faith that Hamilton is Babe Ruth. Give the soundtrack a few spins, read the libretto, then give it a watch.” Tick, tick, tick.

2. Share how your view has been a blessing and/or a boon to you: Several of my Hamilton-fan friends explained how the show impacted them for the better. One quoted a line of dialogue: “Like the scripture says, ‘Everyone should sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid, they’ll be safe in this nation we’ve made.'” She added: “George Washington’s farewell address brings me to tears every time.” The ticks just keep on coming.

3. Don’t make everything exclusively about partisanship. Perhaps the most powerful exchanges in the thread are those between friends who didn’t know each other existed before commenting together on my post. A liberal atheist and a conservative Christian bonded over how a certain song “sucker punched them right in the gut.” They discovered common ground to support a common cause.

So, does all of this add up to enough ticks for me to give Hamilton a shot? Indeed, it does. More importantly, though, may it offer all of us a glimpse into how to argue respectfully, winsomely and effectively when we set out to help others see the world through a lens we believe offers a better perspective.

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