I’m old enough to remember when music, dance, art and poetry were integral parts of social change. No one would even consider having a meeting that didn’t include some aspect of celebrating the human spirit.
There is something deeply satisfying about gathering in groups and singing together. Collective music around the fire or down by the riverside is an integral part of our human story, and our social movements are suffering as a result of a lack of common song.
Something was lost when we began to professionalize the making of social change. Our songs became chants, our dances became marches, our rallies became meetings and our art was relegated to the walls of conferences.
When was the last time you sang, recited poetry or danced in a professional setting? It’s been awhile for me, and that’s not a good thing. Fortunately, we have folks like Toshi Reagon and Dan Zanes who teach us about the power of collective song. Sarah Crowell and alum Joe Goode remind us how to dance and move; Drew Dellinger and alum Logan Phillips remind us about the power of words; and alums Cece Carpio and Ashley Minner bring beauty to our eyes.
What might happen if we were to burst into song the next time we hit a tense moment in a board meeting? Or dance as we made our way to our seats at our next professional conference? One of my staff members has taken to skipping through the office, and I can’t tell you how thoroughly it delights me.
Leadership can be one of the best things about being human. Sometimes I worry that social change leadership has become a bit dreary, and could use some breath, air and tone. Song.
This month, I invite you to sing – in your shower, office or at staff meetings. Take a dance break. Write a poem instead of a list. Paint your way out of your next problem. Try skipping through the hallways.
Let’s look for ways to enliven our leadership, and humanize our work by returning to basic human capacities that need no agendas, flip charts or work plans. Let’s grab a partner, a funder, a staff or board member and sing, dance, write or play – it will be good for our souls and even better for the world.
First published in Rockwood Leadership Institute’s October 2014 newsletter.