In his groundbreaking book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, author Robert Putnam discusses how we have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and even our democracy – and how we may reconnect. Putnam warns that our stock of social capital – the very fabric of our connections with each other, has plummeted, impoverishing our lives and communities.
He draws on evidence including nearly 500,000 interviews over the last quarter century to show that we sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often. We’re even bowling alone. More Americans are bowling than ever before, but they are not bowling in leagues. Putnam shows how changes in work, family structure, age, suburban life, television, computers, women’s roles and other factors have contributed to a significant reduction in the social capital in our society. There are several declining trends in social capital over the past 25 years including: Attending Club Meetings – 58% drop; Family dinners – 43% drop; Having friends over – 35% drop.
What does “social capital” mean?
The central premise of social capital is that social networks have value. Social capital refers to the collective value of all “social networks” [who people know] and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other [“norms of reciprocity”]
How does social capital work?
The term social capital emphasizes not just warm and cuddly feelings, but a wide variety of quite specific benefits that flow from the trust, reciprocity, information, and cooperation associated with social networks. Social capital creates value for the people who are connected and – at least sometimes – for bystanders as well. When a group of neighbors informally keep an eye on one another’s homes, that’s social capital in action. Barn-raising on the frontier was social capital in action, and so too are e-mail exchanges among members of a cancer support group. Social capital can be found in friendship networks, neighborhoods, churches, schools, bridge clubs, civic associations, as examples.
Question 1: What things in your life have caused a decrease in your “social capital”? HDIFAMA?
(For example: daily commutes, living further distance from family, longer work week, both spouses working outside the home, less attendance of family reunions and get-togethers, full schedules, less church attendance, children grown and those social networks are gone, cell phone, social media or computer usage, business travel, television usage, less vacation time, etc.)
What are some things that destroy social capital in your life?
Is your level of social capital different than that of your family of origin?
While traveling to promote his book, Putnam found that one question came up at every appearance: what can we do to end the atrophy of America’s civic vitality. What can bring us together again?
Seeking an answer to this question, Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard, with the assistance of coauthor Lewis Feldstein, who has a long and distinguished career in civic activism, visited places across the country where individuals and groups are engaged in unusual forms of social activism and civic renewal. These are people who are renewing their communities and investing in new forms of “social capital.” His second book, Better Together describes a dozen innovative organizations that are re-weaving the social fabric of our country, and brings the hopeful news that our civic institutions are taking new forms to adapt to new times and new needs.
The website, BetterTogether.org, is an initiative of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. This initiative specifically mentions that the strengthening influence of spiritual faith as one of the most important aspects of social capital. Religious and faith-based organizations represent half of the nation’s total stock of social capital. Better Together endorses fortifying congregations as civic institutions and encourages inter-faith partnerships.
As a matter of fact, joining and participating in one group cuts in half your odds of dying next year. And the benefits of a strong social network can improve marriage, as well. It is known that communication, affirmation, emotional intimacy, and having the support of other couples are important in sustaining a satisfying marriage.
Social capital is built through hundreds of little and big actions we take every day. Take a look at the list below of nearly 50 ideas, drawn from suggestions made by many people and groups. Try some of these or try your own.
INCREASING SOCIAL CAPITAL – 50 SUGGESTIONS TO BECOME MORE CONNECTED WITH OTHERS
|1. Organize a social gathering to welcome a new neighbor|
2. Attend town meetings
3. Play cards with friends or neighbors
4. Support local merchants and get to know the staff
5. Volunteer your special skills to an organization
6. Donate blood (with a friend!)
7. Start a front-yard/community garden
8. Mentor someone in your area of expertise
9. Audition for community theater or volunteer to usher
10. Tape record your parents’ earliest recollections and share them with your children
11. Plan a vacation with friends or family
12. Visit a nursing home or assisted-living facility
13. Give a weekly call to an elderly family member or friend
14. Organize or participate in a sports league
15. Join a gardening club
16. Attend home parties when invited
17. Become an organ donor or blood marrow donor.
18. Participate in political campaigns
19. Ask a single diner to share your table for lunch
20. Join the local Elks, Kiwanis, or Lions club
21. Start a fix-it group with friends willing to help each other clean, paint, garden, etc.
22. Start a monthly Bible study group
23. Speak at or host a monthly brown bag lunch series at your local library
24. Sing in a choir
25. Start a lunch gathering or a discussion group with co-workers
26. Attend community meetings
27. Join the volunteer fire department
28. Give your park a weatherproof chess/checkers board
29. Host a block party or a holiday open house
30. Give to your local food bank
31. Walk or bike to support a cause and meet others
32. Bake cookies for new neighbors or work colleagues
33. Volunteer in your child’s or grandchild’s classroom or chaperone a field trip
34. Take a class at a community college
35. Attend plays or concerts
36. Answer surveys when asked
37. Invite local government officials to speak at your workplace or civic group
38. Talk a walking tour of a local historic area
39. Say “thanks” to public servants: police, firefighters, military
40. Take dance lessons with a friend
41. Join a nonprofit board of directors
42. Have dinner as a family
43. Gather a group to clean up a local park or cemetery
44. Turn off the TV and talk with friends or family
45. Hold a neighborhood barbecue
46. Go to church
47. Offer to rake a neighbor’s yard or shovel his/her walk
48. Start or join a carpool
49. Host a potluck supper or family reunion
50. Start a “supper club” with other couples each month and rotate meal responsibilities
CONNECTING CONVERSATION TO HAVE WITH YOUR PARTNER: How can we, as a couple, increase our social capital? How do I feel about sharing this with you?