'Look around' and other life lessons of 'Hamilton'

Sunday , April 15, 2018 - 12:00 AM

SIERRA CLARK
TX. Correspondent

There’s no doubt that the arts can provide many lessons that are relevant to our times. One such influencer is the theater, and there is perhaps no musical now more well known within pop culture than “Hamilton.”

Whether you love the story of Alexander Hamilton or haven’t listened yet, you’ve probably heard about it. The story of our first U.S. treasury secretary turned pop is catchy, fun and just intriguing in general.

However, the musical — currently making its Salt Lake City debut — also provides some deeper lessons that we can each benefit from. Here are three lessons you can learn from “Hamilton,” as presented in the show’s music.

1. “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?” — Know your standards

Throughout the musical, Hamilton and political rival Aaron Burr are often at odds. Whether it be a simple irksome moment, or the fateful final duel, their stances clash, bringing to light an important principle.

On one hand, Burr’s position on a given subject lines up to whichever side he thinks will progress his personal political goals. For example, Burr was not a Democratic-Republican, but he switched parties in order to take a senate spot that he saw as vulnerable (as told in the song “Schuyler Defeated”). In addition, when Burr originally meets Hamilton, his thought with the Revolutionary War is to sit it out and see which ways the wind blows before taking a chance on either side.

Burr is unwilling to act without feeling assured that he will meet a favorable outcome. Unfortunately for Burr, it’s this exact stagnation that causes others to doubt that his intentions are good, and is directly mentioned as why Hamilton didn’t support his bid for president.

For each of us, the downsides that Burr faces can be avoided. By knowing our foundation and what we will do to protect it, we can avoid falling prey to every idea that passes by. If you take the moment to recognize what is important, it becomes much easier to sort through increasingly hard-to-stomach news that reaches us each day. It allows us to be stable, and to truly succeed in a way that we see Burr fall short of.

2. “Non-Stop!” — The value of persistence

Alexander Hamilton was no stranger to hardship. He was born out of wedlock, his mother died, his father left, his cousin he stayed with committed suicide, and he survived a hurricane — all before he came to North America at age 17.

His adult life did not lead to respite from this adversity. His hubris bred its own problems alongside the many that everyone faces. In spite of this, Hamilton had remarkable amounts of success. Practically no one would expect an orphan from the Caribbean to rise up and become an instrumental part in both a major Revolutionary War battle and in the early United States government.

And yet, he did so. In everything he did, he threw himself entirely into the work. And if it wasn’t what he needed, it didn’t have to be the end.

Many of us can benefit from such an attitude. Although we may not face such large trials, or wish to become secretary of state, everyone has somewhere they want to be. It’s only up to yourself to change those things that need fixing. It’s often noted that a good attitude is a key to success in many endeavors.

Hamilton is a poignant illustration of someone who never allowed himself to be beaten down for long. And if we each follow that attitude, our mountains can’t stop us.

3: “Look around” — Keep things in perspective

One of the most often repeated lines by Eliza Hamilton, Alexander’s wife, is to “look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.” Within the play, one use of this line points Alexander to the fact that he has a loving family that needs him. In another, the line is spoken to deepen the realization that the Hamiltons live in times of great change that they can have an impact on.

Indeed, perspective is a huge theme of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s play. It is Eliza who preserves Alexander’s memory, constantly pointing out that prestige is no comparison to making a lasting impact on people who knew them. Because she has perspective, she forgives Hamilton after their son passes away. She understood that being strong as a family would lead to healing, a feat that could not occur through continuing to be bitter about previous wrongs.

It’s easy for any of us to get tunnel vision about what is important and be led down the path of being resentful over meaningless snubs, or being unforgiving to those who wrong us. But as the well-known quote goes, “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” “Hamilton” provides a beautiful example of the healing that comes from being willing to see the bigger picture and look past small faults. It’s a lesson we can all improve on.

In the end, “Hamilton” is addictive to listen to and to sing. But it also holds a treasure trove of lessons, if we look for them.

Sierra Clark is a junior at Venture High School. She plays piano and flute and is an avid reader, but most of all she enjoys learning all about new things. Email her at s.siclark@venturelearning.org.

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