In my favorite scene from the movie, Strictly Ballroom, the grandmother, master of flamenco, places her hand on the heart of the young ballroom dancer as he begins to dance the paso doble. The elder instructs him, “listen to the rhythm, don’t be scared.” Like the young dancer yearning to dance new steps, we, the people of the world, are being invited to place our hand on our heart and listen to the rhythm – the beat of a deeper democracy – and don’t be scared.
The despicable war on Ukraine is lighting fires in people across the world to stand together for human rights. Photos of massive antiwar demonstrations flash across social media. Impromptu conversations with strangers lead to surprising shared feelings of solidarity. At the outbreak of the war, Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Union, declared, “the Ukrainian people are holding up a torch of freedom for all of us…They are defending their lives and they are fighting for universal values and they are willing to die for them.”
A global consciousness to protect universal values is being aroused by the courage and steadfastness of the Ukrainian people. Billions of people are mobilizing to support the Ukrainian people’s right to determine the governance of their country. Daily news covers deadly missile attacks, fleeing refugees and tragic suffering; and, it also tells about the waves of brave, collective effort springing from common values that bind people together.
One hundred years ago, Mary Parker Follett, a visionary of democracy wrote, “for we no longer think of democracy as of a form of government, we know now that it is far more than that. It is a fire that burns in the heart of humanity that binds us together and makes us one.”
In the early 20th century, Follett pointed us toward the possibility of an inner democracy, an experience of personal authority that undergirds ideology and structures of government. She listened to the rhythms deep in the human heart. As we face today’s realities, I imagine her placing her hand firmly on each of our hearts urging us to listen to our own hearts and to feel the beat of humanity rising in this moment. She wants to help us learn new steps. We are learning the hard way, but we are learning to embrace an energizing, renewed belief in human possibility and to feel the burning in the hearts of people that transcend national, religious and cultural identities. Today, focus is on Ukraine but injustice and violence in any country necessitate our attention.
Every blue over gold cardboard sign for Ukraine, every peace song in a public square, every effort to help refugees, every gesture of solidarity and care for people suffering injustice, violence and oppression anywhere in the world show us that we are learning to dance the new steps of a deeper democracy. Listen to the rhythm.