By Andrea Morisette Grazzini
Betty GreenCrow has a presence so striking it’s hard to miss. Balanced measures of wisdom and curiosity, connection and boundary seem to emanate from people like her. Emerging unbidden from somewhere integral—their soul, perhaps.
Whatever it is, it illuminates a “radical” humanness. Which was evident during a recent presentation she and others led at the University of Minnesota, on the uncommonly pragmatic practice of “citizen professionalism.”
Radical here refers to the word’s nuanced definition: that which is essential, emerging from the roots or inherent core.
And, I hasten to note, runs contrary to recent perseverations of Newt Gingrich about Saul Alinksy. That amount to strategically simplified sound bitable campaign rhetoric. Though I expect Gingrich might imagine he has radical tendencies of his own, were the term not so semantically scorned by his party.
Though it might seem risky to encourage radical humanity given the media amplified messages Gingrich and others imply, I’d argue it is nonetheless more risky to minimize its importance.
A good example of why can be found in the practice of citizen professionalism.
Without encountering the fuller meaning of radical humanness, I can’t see how professionals: whether healthcare experts, lawyers, teachers, businesspeople, faith leaders or, yes, politicians, can achieve their sincerest career or civic ideals or their fullest human potentials. All of these: human, potential, career and civic life are — like it or not — interdependent.
Relationship is radical
This understanding of “radical humanness” has appealed to me since Fr. Michael O’Connell introduced it to me. “If you want to be radically human,” he said, “You have to take care of your relationships.”
His take addends Alinksy’s: “The radical is that unique person to whom the common good is the greatest personal value. (…) (S)o completely identified with mankind that (s)he personally shares the pain, the injustices, and the sufferings of all his (her) fellow men.”
Fr. O’Connell suggests “relationship” encompasses and transcends “radical.” By taking it from Alinsky’s “human-lover” who empathizes with common good humanity, to one who engages their realer human Self (warts and all) in the practice of relationship with fellow stakeholders.
Co-producing care for community
Here, taking care of common good prioritizes taking care of ones relationships in community as mission critical. And community here implies all the geographical spaces—near or far—that we share with other humans different from ourselves in so many and varied ways.
What we stakeholder’s share in common—from the core and above all— are the intrinsically intertwined stakes in our relationships. With and from these, both our shared efforts and we as individuals are enriched, through collaborations in behalf of the place or places we co-habit.
The point is: we learn to be more radically human through encountering our own humanity—ego and all—by sustaining co-productive relationships.
Which seemed evident as Mendenhall, GreenCrow and their co-presenter Nan LittleWalker interacted. The three have long partnered in their work to fight diabetes. Though one of them, Mendenhall, who has a PhD, is perceived by society as a more qualified professional than the others are.
Experiential expertise in humility
Remarkable is that all made utterly clear that Mendenhall for all his credentials, published research and experience as a health-care practitioner, is no more an expert on the subject than the two women are. Whose expertise was derived at by different venues than Dr. Mendenhall’s was, but without which, Dr. Mendenhall couldn’t succeed in his work and, beyond that, be nearly as satisfied as he is with it.
The eyes of people like Betty GreenCrow dance with lightness and amiability, one moment. Seem shadowed and searching, another. In another, they seem to rest—as if surrendered to momentary meditation. The combinations express ego-balance, a humility-grounded confidence.
Which GreenCrow’s eyes expressed from the moment she and the others began their talk. Mendenhall seemed to have the same spark, too. Though his professional persona came through more prominently at first. The discussion began with his comments. As he coaxed the others to speak to their experiences, he seemed very much the credentialed, experienced expert of their partnership.
But from the start, Mendenhall spoke of being continually humbled by their shared work. His candor was modeled in the exchanges he and the women engaged as they eased into comfortable banter. With LittleWalker at one point teasing: “We taught him.” And Mendenhall, sans professional pretense or polite guile, agreeing.
Such are the ego-balancing effects of truly collaborative effort. Which replenish at once all parties’ humility and their confidence. Not only their self-confidence (and by implication confidence in people like themselves), but also their “other-confidence” in people quite different from themselves.
Leaders follow, Followers lead
In such partnerships people learn the power of interdependence. Erstwhile leaders learn there is no one “be-all, know-all” answer or answerer. Heretofore followers learn there is no one “buck-stops-here” problem solver or solution. All are both, and all.
All learn through experience that each person is important and essential as co-solutions creators, even if differently skilled or socially situated. Who together develop from the emergent properties of shared effort from and with their unique “characters” as individuals interacting and connected with both-ways relationships that bridge difference.
Thus, they expend little effort diverting, diminishing or deterring differences, but instead embrace, enable and employ their different experiences and energies. And together construct a dimensional whole that, it turn, possesses it’s own unique characteristics thanks to the amalgam and outcomes the particular mixture of people—and their intertwined passions—produces.
The process is not only productive, but, with on-going practice, elicits ever-renewing results. Some quite profound. As Dr. William J. Doherty, the pioneer of citizen professionalism notes, such “level-the-problem-solving field” methods are “healing arts” all people—regardless pedigree, perspective or profession—can learn. And among the most noble of acts to practice, I’d add.
Citizen professionals traverse the paths less socially (if not professionally and politically) prescribed. They marry their most personal desires for purpose and public progress in committed relationships with people they might never have otherwise imagined could be as committed, qualified and concerned as they are.
I suspect something radical will happen if more do—as indeed, I expect more will. Stifled needs for connection and shared meaning will be better satisfied. And as they are so will desperately needed infusions of hope in humans’ capacities to act in authentically humane ways.
Without which, our communities (and our communities include us individuals) risk otherwise being consumed by ever-more isolating ego voids, deaf to the core to this essential, immutable reality:
There is No Way we can achieve our radical humanity alone.
We can only be our best personal ‘I’ through relationships committed to co-achieving our best public ‘Us.’