The Radical Humanity of Citizen Professionalism

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Also published in AOL’s The Patch.

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 Tai Mendenhall PhD led at the University of Minnesota, on the uncommonly pragmatic practice of “citizen professionalism.”

Radical defined

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.

Betty GreenCrow and Nan LittleWalker tracking diabetes measurements

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, in turn, possesses it’s own unique characteristics thanks to the amalgam and outcomes the particular mixture of people—and their intertwined passions—produces.

William J. (Bill) Doherty, PhD Citizen Professionalism pioneer

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.

Un-stifled authenticity

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.’

©2012  Andrea Morisette Grazzini is Founder of DynamicShift


  1. Jaime Lubin
    Posted 11 Mar ’12 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Thinking in your words….How can we transform our citizenship, from a complete apathia to a total awarness? I believe that we are capable of social intelligence toward success (or failure?)

    The pragmatic sides of an active and live citizenship begins around the table, talking about the public issues, in our own homes, with our families, with our neighbors, and ourselves. Being a critic is a dangerous sport (I lose a lot of “friends”)…but when I realize that i’m going in “wrong- way” really I’m in the right way.

    Jaime Lubin

    • Lindsay Bowker
      Posted 11 Mar ’12 at 1:27 pm | Permalink


      My dear one.. as we live into “conviviocracy”

    • Posted 11 Mar ’12 at 9:39 pm | Permalink


      I believe we are capable of social intelligence, but we must create ever-replenishing social contagions of it.

      A critical element, is, as you note, to understand the danger in hyper-critique. Critical thinking ceases to be thinking when all it is comprised of is critical.

      All must model “co-thinking” as vigorously as we blame. The old adage: Seek first to understand, then to be understood” comes to mind. But, I add with a big exclamation:

      Even understanding is not enough if no action is taken to build from it relationships that show and do more than tell the solutions that can be co-achieved.


  2. Barbara J. Miller
    Posted 11 Mar ’12 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Paul Rogat Loeb’s “Soul of a Citizen” underscores this, too. Important concept.

  3. Lindsay Bowker
    Posted 11 Mar ’12 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Of late , living my urging of others to be engaged in civic action, I have turned my attention and engagement and all my writing to local legislative issues. I am working from 5 am to 8pm every day, full bore, non stop doing exactly what I did years ago for a 6 figure salary. If I see something happening that I have some expertise in, a place where that might be helpful, I write testimony or a blog for a Maine newspaper or start posting at other people’s blogs and writing testimony.

    It’s a mystical process, we who turn our hearts and minds toward the same issue at the same time, trying to shed light, trying to bring truth and reason trying to awaken critical intelligent independent thought in others are a community of voices like a choir..each brings to bear their own particular gift and together somehow we actually do cause a shift . We are speaking with our own authentic voices not from any organization or platform, there is no joint decision making or intentional collaboration. We are a spontaneous simultaneous chorus of authentic individual voices. And there are subtle mysteries in it. The cosmos gave me the words “ashamed and embarrassed” to use in several pieces on several different issues..all blatant undue corporate influence issues when usually my testimomy and writing would contain no trace of feeling or humanity. As I go out to other communities doing my research on each issue I have seen those two words appearing exactly as it does in my own work ..tight professional, factual but with this vessel of humanity and feeling holding it and expressing it, “embarrassed and ashamed” . I get the feeling we have each been tapped to be in the choir on each of these issues..hand chosen, authentic individual voices.

    I think there is a power in authenticity itself, in transparency, in clarity, in speaking as one for many that has far more leverage for change, much greater force in effecting a dynamic shift. That individual authenticity is the key.

    Lindsay Bowker

    • Posted 11 Mar ’12 at 9:54 pm | Permalink


      You continued public work, after your formal career, is Citizen Professionalism embodied.

      Your thoughts on “subtle mysteries” in and of individual+collective experiences is intriguing. They suggest that “something more” that seems always to happen when new understandings are not rejected as weird or wrong, but accepted as offering some prescience or unexpected opportunity. Akin, in some ways to accidental innovation, even if it is unclear from where the inspiration comes.

      And, this thought of being tapped to be in the choir is lovely, and, forgive the pun: resonant! Yes.

      Finally, my feeling is that in trying to awaken the critical intelligence in others often helps achieve the same for self. In the teach to learn realm, somewhat. As we seek intelligence to share, we (hopefully) find we are enriched with more knowledge, too.

      The balancing act seems to require knowing we are at once “only” human and also possess those profound gifts of high potentials all humans possess. And the ongoing growth comes in co-achieving the “only” and the “highest” in sustained relationship with others.


      • Lindsay Bowker
        Posted 15 Mar ’12 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

        lovely reply..thnakks you
        ad note

        from two idependent minds and hearts

        these two comemts are a kind of unity

        and a kind of pointing to something bigger and beyond what either of us intended or anticipated

  4. Dan ganley
    Posted 11 Mar ’12 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    A well intentioned, well written article that to me also brings us back to an earlier time when to be a seasoned citizen, one had to be knowledgable about many ideas, and not so specialized in one area. Good job!

  5. Karina Eisner
    Posted 14 Mar ’12 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    Jaime, How can we move from apathy to awareness?
    I think the starting point is at the bottom of the community: it starts with me. Each one of us deciding to make a difference. The “how to” comes later. What we do is different for each one of us as we see our surroundings with different eyes. We are all gifted differently, and there is power in that diversity. But I think act we must. From writing an article, to joining the school PTO or making a petition to the legislators, we must do something. This way, we are showing to others alternatives, we are being movers and shakers, and we are providing CPR on our communities.

    I LOVE this concept of radical humanity!

  6. Richard
    Posted 27 Mar ’12 at 12:50 am | Permalink

    I think you are full of crap.

  7. Osman
    Posted 11 Apr ’12 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    Great article. Well written Andrea. I like how radical is defined here. I think We are all connected and our connection is what drives life as is known in this universe. Your writing is so powerful it moves anyone who understands.People like you with the right message keeps hopes alife.

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