I take the dog for a stroll at 7:30 a.m. every day. Tahlequah, a nine-month-old hound, is a ball of activity. My day is ruined if she doesn’t get some exercise. She annoys the kitties. She growls at onlookers. She annihilates whatever she can get her claws on. I used to think these treks were a bother, but now I see how helpful they are to both man and beast.
They also help me create social capital.
There’s a loosely connected group of neighbourhood dog owners that walk the same path every day at the same time. Tally and I run into Lara (walking Hunter), Peter (walking Footie), Chuck (walking Rory), Dave (walking Pippin), Susan (walking Flanders and Gigi), Danna (walking Artie), and a variety of other people several times each week. We’ve only been taking this walk for a few months, but some of the dogs and their owners have been going for years.
We converse while we stroll. We’re getting to know each other. We offer our knowledge of our areas of speciality — real estate, psychology, personal finance — as well as our knowledge of the neighbourhood. And we keep an eye on the situation to ensure that everything is secure. As an example:
On a recent hike, Lara’s companion told me about several new local brewers.
Susan gave me the RMLS information after I indicated that I observed a property for sale in the area and wanted to learn more.
Our neighbourhood, like the rest of Portland, is dealing with an increasing homeless population. When people quit their beach camps, we dogwalkers are the ones who clean up the rubbish.
Every morning, we work to increase our social capital. We’re strengthening the relationships of this group’s members (some are close friends), and we’re boosting the overall quality of life in our area. Although social capital is not physical, it is just as real and valuable as any other means of trade. Perhaps even more so.
Social Capital Definition
“The essential notion of social capital theory is that social networks have value,” explains Bowling Alone author Robert Putnam. “Just as a screwdriver (physical capital) or a college education (human capital) may boost production (both individual and communal), so can social relationships… “Social capital refers to individual relationships — social networks — and the rules of reciprocity and trustworthiness that emerge from them.” Putnam is referring to real-life social networks, not the virtual networking that is so popular today in 2016. Twitter and Facebook did not exist when he released Bowling Alone in 2000. I believe that digital social media may improve, but not replace, real-life connections.
Volunteering at a food pantry, assisting a neighbour in starting their car, inviting your Sunday School class over for a picnic, or joining a softball team all generate social capital. When you participate in your community, you generate social capital for yourself as well as the other people involved.
Social capital, unlike other types of capital, includes both an individual and a community component. You profit from social capital generation, but so does your community. (Not always, but most of the time.) The more social capital you can generate, the more linked you (and your community) are.
“A well-connected person in a badly linked society is not as productive as a well-connected person in a well-connected community.”
Even loners benefit from a high degree of social capital in a well-connected society. “If the crime rate in my area is reduced by neighbours keeping an eye on one another’s homes,” Putnam writes, “I profit even if I spend the majority of my time on the road and never even nod to another homeowner on the street.”
Social Capital Aspects
Although the phrase “social capital” is relatively new, the concept is not. We’ve called it various things in the past: kindness, camaraderie, and community. The principle was known in ancient societies as “the golden rule,” and we are most familiar with it from the Biblical commandment to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Putnam states, “Social capital turns out to have powerful, even quantitative consequences on many diverse elements of our life.” “What is at risk isn’t just a pleasant, fuzzy feeling or [community pride]… When community relationships deteriorate, our schools and neighbourhoods suffer… Our economy, democracy, and even our health and pleasure are all dependent on proper social capital reserves.”
We have less motivation to help our neighbours and enhance our communities when we don’t communicate with one another and isolate ourselves within our houses.
Putnam distinguishes between bonding and bridging social capital. “Bonding social capital is like sociological superglue,” he adds, “whereas bridging social capital is like sociological WD-40.”
Social capital bonding fosters strong in-group loyalty. (This may result in considerable out-group animosity.) Church groups, country clubs, and collegiate fraternities and sororities are examples of this type of inward-directed networking. Bonding social capital is defined by me as “strong links with personal friends.” The older I become, the less of this I have, and I miss it.
Bridging social capital connects people across sociocultural divides. Bowling leagues, national groups, and my dog-walking club are all examples of this type of networking. Bridging social capital is what I conceive of as having weak links with acquaintances. This is something I feel I have a lot of, which is fantastic.
In summary, bonding social capital is created in homogenous groups (where people are similar) and bridging social capital is created between heterogeneous groups (of dissimilar folks). Both are excellent. The latter is harder to construct and maintain, but it provides the most benefit to people and society.
It is worth noting that encounters frequently involve aspects of both bridging and bonding social capital. I’m not going to discriminate between the two for the sake of Money Boss. I’ll just refer to “social capital” as a single, cohesive concept. If you want a more scholarly look at the topic, I recommend borrowing a copy of Bowling Alone from your local library.
Increasing Social Capital
Putnam’s study indicates that social capital has been eroding over the last few decades. It is less prevalent in American culture today than it was fifty years ago.
“Over the last several decades, the ebbing of community has been subtle and deceptive,” argues Putnam. “Weakening social capital is manifested in things that have nearly disappeared undetected – neighbourhood parties and get-togethers with friends, unreflective generosity of strangers, the collaborative pursuit of the public good rather than a solitary drive for private goods.”
Increasing your social capital will benefit both you and your community. Putnam claims that “trustworthiness lubricates social life.”
When I think of social capital, I think of our apartment. It’s simple for the residents of our building to shut down, remain inside and avoid interacting with their neighbours. However, this generates barriers rather than relationships. As a result, as a community, we have made a concerted effort to develop fellowship and get to know one another. As a result, we’re significantly more inclined to pitch in when a neighbour needs help.
People with a lot of social capital can get support when they need it, but those with low social capital are often frustrated and alone.
It’s a Wonderful Life, the iconic Christmas film, is a superb example of social capital in the action. George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, is a man who goes out of his way to aid friends and neighbours. When danger hits, everyone he’s ever helped comes to his rescue.
Sure, it’s a cheesy feel-good moment, but it’s a great illustration of social capital at work. When his brother proclaims George to be “the richest guy in town,” he’s not far off the mark. He may lack financial capital, but he is awash with social capital.
This is the film’s concluding message: “No guy is a failure who has friends.”
Although George Bailey frequently sacrifices his interests to develop social capital, it is often possible to create win-win circumstances in which everyone benefits. However, the greatest method to increase social capital is to assist people without expecting anything in return. I preach the “power of yes” when I write about how to build confidence and conquer fear. When I do this, I use the lottery as an analogy:
Nowadays, my job entails meeting and conversing with people from various walks of life. “Would you want to have lunch?” they write, and I reply, “Of course!” We discuss podcasts, travel, bikes, and comic books. Whatever catches our attention. Nothing seems to have happened after we’ve finished our tea or Thai noodles – at least not on the surface. But what has occurred is that we have both gotten lottery tickets. We were handed lottery tickets in life by meeting, conversing, and sharing ideas.
Although I appreciate the lottery analogy, it may be more correct to explain these activities in terms of social capital. I get social capital when I meet new individuals. They are accumulating social capital. And we, as a community — whatever that group may be — are accumulating social capital.
Kim and I were impressed by this truth throughout our fifteen-month RV travel across the country: people are great. People we encountered were kind, polite, and engaged everywhere we visited. They were delighted to talk and share their experiences. They invited us to have a meal with them, and we welcomed them to do the same. We experienced precisely two unpleasant experiences with strangers out of thousands of interactions.
If social capital has diminished in this nation, it is not because people are meaner or less tolerant than they used to be. If anything, I believe they are superior. Nicer. More dependable. Despite the terrible news spread by the media, everyone genuinely wants to get along — and
Many commentators have blamed the digital age for the demise of community groups and civic activity. The irony, we’re informed, is that we’re more separated from our real-life neighbours than ever before in this era of increased connection — we live in a “global village!”!
However, it appears that this gap is nothing new. According to Putnam’s study, the United States experiences cycles of increased and decreased social capital, just as we do bouts of increased and decreased economic wealth. We saw a surge in social capital during the 1950s and 1960s. We are currently nearing the bottom of a decline.
My message is that we urgently require a new period of civic ingenuity to establish a new set of institutions and channels for a revitalized civic life that fits the way we have come to live. Our task today is to create a twenty-first-century counterpart of the Boy Scouts, the settlement house, the playground, Hadassah, the United Mine Workers, or the NAACP. My message is that we urgently require a new period of civic ingenuity to establish a new set of institutions and channels for a revitalized civic life that fits the way we have come to live. Our task today is to create a twenty-first-century counterpart of the Boy Scouts, the settlement house, the playground, Hadassah, the United Mine Workers, or the NAACP.
Recently, I’ve been wondering, “What specific measures can I take to enhance social capital for myself and my community?” Here are a couple of my responses:
- I can freely and frequently offer my expertise and experience. I may continue to speak at events for free.
- I am willing to meet with anyone who requests it.
- I can contribute to my community. (To that end, I’ve joined the HOA board and started exploring local clubs and events to participate in.)
- I can help my friends, family, and coworkers with their varied projects.
- I invite you to join me. Let us get more active in our communities. Let us all be friendly to one another. Let us offer without expecting anything in return. Let us do everything we can to increase social capital.
“We should do this not because it will be good for America — though it will be — because it will be good for us,” Putnam argues at the end of Bowling Alone.