As many have probably heard, Lin-Manuel Miranda has enlightened millions of young adults and even teenagers to the gritty, emotional, hip-hop tale of Alexander Hamilton and our fine nation’s tumultuous beginnings. His musical simply titled Hamilton has also opened my eyes to an age old struggle, it seems, that anyone living in the world has faced.
Allow me to give you some background in the context of the musical. If you were hoping to avoid spoilers for the musical, well, your history teachers should take the blame. It’s all in your textbooks.
Alexander Hamilton is an outspoken young man, with a big brain, big opinions, and bigger ideas. He will seize any opportunity to speak his mind. He knows nothing of subtlety or doubt; he believes in what he knows is right and is not afraid to tell the world.
Aaron Burr, on the other hand, believes in keeping it to yourself. He recognized that, with Hamilton’s approach, he would piss off a lot of people. He figured he could get further in life if he kept all of his cards in his hand until he knew he could win the game. He was incredibly critical of Hamilton, and vice versa.
Many times throughout the play, Hamilton asks Burr “If you stand for nothing, what will you fall for?” Burr was right about Hamilton’s approach; Hamilton had many enemies, and it was much more difficult to negotiate policies. But in the eyes of history, whose name is more recognizable? Hamilton is on the 10 dollar bill; Burr is a footnote in the history book. The only thing he is commonly known for is running against Thomas Jefferson in the election of 1800 – and the only reason he didn’t win is that Hamilton swayed the voters in favor of Jefferson, his enemy! In a literal line from the musical, when explaining who he is voting for, Hamilton says “Jefferson has beliefs – Burr has none.”
When listening to the musical, everyone obviously understands and sides with Hamilton in that one must speak their mind, but I cannot help but see myself more in Burr. I will often avoid conversations which I know will be heated, I do not contradict those I disagree with, because I feel the interaction will end badly. I don’t like engaging on topics charged with emotion. I’ve never thought of it as having “no beliefs”. It’s simply not sharing the beliefs you have.
But recently what I have realized is that, maybe not sharing your beliefs is like having none at all? Am I helping the side I disagree with by not voicing my discontent, even if it is to avoid confrontation? I don’t want to be a Burr-den. (Appreciate that pun.) I have big dreams, and goals, and I don’t want to come so close only to be turned away because I was afraid of expressing how I feel. I don’t want to help the other side. I want to help my side.
But it is hard. Relationships could be tested, tears could be shed. Am I prepared to fight so mercilessly for what I believe? I’d like to think I am, I’d like to think we all are. But realistically, I think I’m going to have to work on it. So far my biggest act of defiance is liking articles on Facebook about social topics my friends disagree with. I know, I’m really pushing myself. I’ll get better, I promise.
But I don’t want to stand for nothing. I know what I would fall for. It’s time the rest of the world did too.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” –Desmond Tutu