Friday, September 30, 2016

Send in your second


I'm among the millions of Americans obsessed with the musical Hamilton. You might even say I'm #ham4ham. There's much to love about Lin-Manuel Miranda's masterpiece, which tells the story of the rise of founding father Alexander Hamilton,whose life is intertwined with and ultimately ended by Aaron Burr in a duel. I'm particularly fascinated with the darker aspects of the show: the dueling, and in particular, the idea of a "second".


So I did some research. According to PBS:

"In a typical duel, each party acted through a second. The seconds' duty, above all, was to try to reconcile the parties without violence. An offended party sent a challenge through his second. If the recipient apologized, the matter usually ended. If he elected to fight, the recipient chose the weapons and the time and place of the encounter. Up until combat began, apologies could be given and the duel stopped. After combat began, it could be stopped at any point after honor had been satisfied."

Here's more about seconds from a random website with a dueling-themed t-shirt:

"...The role of the dueling second was crucial and necessary to the duel– the role of a second contributed to the legitimacy of the duel itself, because his presence alone made it virtually impossible for the dueling parties to stage a fake or illegitimate duel. The principal had to choose his second wisely because not only was the second responsible for negotiating the terms of the duel, but he had to be present to ensure that the duel was conducted with honor by both parties. A Dueling second, according to Code Duello, had the right to intervene and join in a duel if he felt that the duel was not facilitated in good faith. Therefore, it was an honor to be chosen a second." 

In the musical, the duel which took Hamilton's life was precipitated by Hamilton's endorsement of Thomas Jefferson for President over Aaron Burr in the election of 1800, which Aaron Burr took as a personal slight. Both characters had past experiences with duels and thought them childish and immature. But in the end, satisfaction of honor prevailed over common sense and Hamilton's story was cut short.

As I've served churches alongside my husband, I've noticed many Christians are afraid of conflict. Conflict itself isn't bad, but how we handle it can be. If we had to loop in two other parties to settle an argument, would that help? In an age where independence is highly valued, do we think acting through a second is weak? Gossipy?

If I'm being completely honest, I have no idea who I'd choose as my second if I were challenged to a duel tomorrow. Do you? It confirms a belief I've held for a while that our connections to people in our modern age of social media and globalization are more wide than deep, more acquaintance than friend. As I've gotten older, I've gained many Facebook friends and Twitter followers but have lost the real, deep friendships I enjoyed in high school and college. Chalk it up to busyness or itinerancy or a particular stage of parenting, but it's true for me and I'd wager it's been true for you at some point in your life: we don't have seconds anymore.

In contentious business or legal matters we use mediators. Both parties in a troubled marriage might turn to a counselor for guidance. In church, we might convene a committee to work through a problem. These are modern-day seconds.

Social media is the modern dueling ground. It's easier than ever to wound (though not mortally) an offending party. But without our trusty second giving us the time and space to process or a time and a place to settle it, we can make rash decisions that can have long-acting consequences. I'm not saying dueling is a better system, but at least the duelists could see their enemy. They could look him in the eye, and so could their second. These days, we hide behind screens and hurl our insults at both no one and everyone in moments flat.

Do we need to bring back seconds? Who is your second?

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