Saturday, March 1, 2008

Social Capital: The Power of Connections

Americans have stopped joining, stopped going, and stopped participating in huge numbers. What affect does this have on us as individuals, as local communities, and as a society in general? According to Professor Robert Putnum, author of Bowling Alone, being connected with friends and community make a person healthier, in fact, a smoker may receive a benefit equal to quitting the habit by joining a civic organization. "America has historically been blessed with very high levels of social capital compared to most other countries. We do connect with one another and that's been an important part of our advantage historically as a country. And for most of the last century or so that was more and more true of Americans. We were year by year connecting more with one another. We were going to meetings more, belonging to PTA, belonging to civic groups, having friends over to the house, giving more. Our generosity was rising year by year in terms of the fraction of our income that we gave to other people. And then somehow mysteriously about, oh, 25 or 30 years ago all of those trends turned downward and --we began doing all of those things less, connecting less with other people, and so this book (Bowling Alone) is about, first of all, the fact, demonstrating that that's a quite pervasive trend across American society and then trying to explore why it happened and what difference it makes and what we might do about it." --author: Professor Robert Putnam on Cspan Booknotes, December 24, 2000 Social Capital as defined by Professor Robert Putnam author of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community: "The core idea of social capital theory is that social networks have value. Social capital refers to connections among individuals -- social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. The term social capital itself turns out to have been independently invented at least six times over the twentieth century, each time to call attention to the ways in which our lives are made more productive by social ties." "As a rule of thumb, if you belong to no groups but decide to join one, you cut your risk of dying over the next year in half. If you smoke and belong to no groups, it's a toss-up statistically whether you should stop smoking or start joining." Even the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recognizes that social capital is important to the health of a community. The following statement can be found on the CDC website: "Circumstances that prevent or limit the availability of social capital for a community and its members can have a negative effect on the health and well-being of the members of that community. These negative effects on health and well-being can in turn have negative effects on the community as a whole." L. J. Hanifan, state supervisor of rural schools in West Virginia wrote about "social capital" in 1916 to urge the importance of community involvement for successful schools. Hanifan invoked the idea of "social capital" to explain why. For Hanifan, social capital referred to: "those tangible substances [that] count for most in the daily lives of people: namely good will, fellowship, sympathy, and social intercourse among the individuals and families who make up a social unit....The individual is helpless socially, if left to himself....If he comes into contact with his neighbor, and they with other neighbors, there will be an accumulation of social capital, which may immediately satisfy his social needs and which may bear a social potentiality sufficient to the substantial improvement of living conditions in the whole community. The community as a whole will benefit by the cooperation of all its parts, while the individual will find in his associations the advantages of the help, the sympathy, and the fellowship of his neighbors." The plight of the average person today is one of spending approximately 45 or more hours per week working at a place of employment, coming home many times with additional work in hand. Maybe there will be a family dinner, but that in itself is becoming a thing of the past as family members grab a bite to eat out or throw a single frozen entree into the microwave. Very often dining is not with the company of family or friends but with the glow of a wide screen high definition TV. We "chat" on cell phones and on computers and plug in to our mp3 players. We feel like we have a community, but it is an electronic nonparticipatory one most times that is gone with the flip of a switch. It takes some work to be connected but we will be healthier as individuals and as a society in general if we do engage with our community. Read about it: Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert Putnam More from Robert Putnam

Post about it: How do you connect with friends, family, and your community? What suggestions do you have for someone looking for a way to engage? Are you more or less connected than you were five years ago?

Do something about it: Contact your city's Chamber of Commerce to find what local organizations in your city could benefit from your participation. Locate a house of faith compatible with your beliefs and start attending. Contact a local Toastmasters group and get involved. Volunteer at a community food kitchen. Find a political candidate you believe in and help campaign. Become a friend of the library, a friend of the symphony, a friend of a local museum. Join the PTA. Lead a scout group. Basically carve out some time of your personal life to connect with your community. What you think you are giving up will be returned to you many times over.

Buzz it up

No comments:

Site Stats

View My Stats On StatCounter

About Our Friendly Earth