Originally published by the Deseret News.
“SLC, you’re killing me. Put your phones away. We can see you. This isn’t a movie. What is up with you guys?” This tweet from Joseph Morales — the actor who plays Alexander Hamilton in the touring Broadway musical — created a firestorm on Twitter last weekend.
Morales retweeted some of the most vitriolic reactions to his observations. Fans of the musical responded by unleashing nasty retorts and personal attacks.
It was not a great time for civility in our local discourse.
This coincided with coverage of the White House Correspondents’ dinner, where comedian Michelle Wolf mercilessly roasted the media, the administration and anyone linked to them. Allies of the White House shot back with equal venom.
President Trump is often accused of bullying, but is taking potshots from a podium the best way to respond? Or a tirade on Twitter? Does being politically active mean throwing out clapbacks at any provocation? Or is there a better way?
I think there is. Former first lady Michelle Obama alluded to it when she said, “When they go low, we go high.” But what does “going high” really look like?
Someone who made a habit of “going high” was former first lady Barbara Bush, who didn’t compromise her decorum even when Sinbad ridiculed her physical appearance at the 1991 White House Correspondents’ dinner. Her pattern of living prompted many to say after her passing that she embodied the principles of civility, grace and respect. We would do well to emulate her.
“Going high” also looks like seeking out and embracing the commonalities with our fellow Americans. For instance, as Americans, we share certain rituals and values.
Rituals are one of the most effective ways to unite any group of people. Religious communities and families understand that and have used rituals for years to unite their members, but rituals can also bind a nation. Fifty years ago, Americans shared the experience of watching Walter Cronkite deliver the news each night. Today, online memes are commonly shared hundreds of thousands of times, bringing millions into a massive inside joke. The point is that it doesn’t matter what rituals bring us together — the important thing is to have shared rituals in the first place.
Many Americans also share in the value of engaging locally. Communities are bound together when we get involved in each other’s lives through acts of service.
During last year’s horrible hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, communities banded together to save their neighbors and make things right again. When there’s a death in a family, it’s common for friends and neighbors to bring meals to a grieving home. When someone is too old to rake leaves, community members will often step in to take care of it.
The acts of service that unify communities are innumerable. Getting involved with our communities is especially important when we think we’re too divided over political or societal differences. Each of us can do our part to “go high” by becoming aware of the needs around us and then reaching out to help.
We must let our bonds of affection outweigh even our starkest differences.
President Abraham Lincoln said, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
The Twitter users who responded to Hamilton’s Morales with hate and negativity did not “go high.” They went low instead of keeping with the principles of civility, finding common ground and engaging in elevated dialogue.
When vitriolic tweets and jokes are being hurled all around us, we must appeal to the better angels of our nature and go high.
In the midst of the firestorm, Morales struck a tone of principled civility with a subsequent tweet, referring to the idea that the Utah Jazz and Hamilton are competing for audiences’ attention: “The world is wide enough for @utahjazz and @HamiltonMusical.” Indeed, the world is wide enough for all of our differences.