The story about Vice President-Elect Mike Pence's experience before, during, and after attending the hit play "Hamilton" has gotten a lot of attention. Since I teach workshops on ethics and tact, I found the incident to be especially interesting. Several thoughts:
- Here Come the Particularists. The reactions to the event evoke memories of the distinction between Universalists and Particularists made by cultural scholar Fons Trompenaars in his book, Riding the Waves of Culture. Universalists believe that rules should apply equally to all. Particularists make exceptions for family and friends; fellow believers in this case. The Universalists would declare that if Donald Trump or Mike Pence are going to be treated in one manner, then it is appropriate to treat Hillary Clinton or Tim Kaine in that same manner. Treat all of them the same. Add to that the additional rule that a basic level of respect is given to an office regardless of how much we disagree with the holder's politics. Also mix in the notion that certain areas should be off-limits. Can't our leaders attend a Broadway play or a Kennedy Center performance without being beset by partisanship? The Particularists defend the booing. The Universalists regard it as tasteless and rude. [Where are those who lecture us on the importance of civility? They may be closet Particularists.]
- The Great Unmentioned. The booing also raises the question of the treatment of the other audience members. Many of them - even in New York City - probably voted for the person being booed. How are they supposed to react if they wish to show their opposition to the conduct? Moreover, what if they simply sought a nice evening out and wished to avoid the divisions of current politics? When they got their tickets, they didn't sign on for street theater. They are the Great Unmentioned in this incident; a group that deserves respect.
- It Was Not a Conversation. Let's consider the conduct of the cast. One of the cast members later said that the incident was not harassment but a "conversation." Baloney. If they'd wanted a conversation with Pence, they would have invited him backstage where a genuine conversation would be possible and he would have a chance to respond. Making a statement from the stage was political grandstanding; a monologue, not a conversation.
- They Had the Power. They were not "speaking truth to power." A theater is their turf. The audience was, I would guess, largely on their side. They had the power. [Fact known by all presenters: the person on stage with the microphone has the power.] If they really wanted to influence Pence, a quiet conversation backstage would have had promise. Delivering a manifesto in front of an audience that has booed Pence is not an attempt to reach out. It is a sophisticated form of bullying.
- I Look Forward to Seeing the Play. It sounds fascinating and the reviews have been great. Any play about Alexander Hamilton automatically scores points with me. I do have one reservation: When I go to a theater, I expect to see all of the customers, regardless of their political party, treated with basic courtesy. No exceptions. No excuses. And no phony "conversations."