“Social capital” is a hot buzz phrase on a lot of lips these days.
But what is social capital, really, you ask? Technically…
so·cial cap·i·tal noun
- the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively.In fact, in its simplest terms, social capital can be thought of as the glue that holds us all together. The relationships that enable us to get stuff done, work together, produce things, and solve problems.
It’s a big question.
I saw firsthand the significance of bridging social capital ten years ago when I started leading conversations with small groups about the joys and challenges of raising children. At that first meeting we talked, laughed, and sometimes cried and found comfort. The overall feeling was, and is, that all families struggle, and none of us are truly alone in the often difficult journey called parenting. “I am not the only one”, and “we are all different but the same” resound time and again in what is termed, Parent Cafes. These phrases are so often repeated at the gatherings that I know they are so much more than cliches. Diverse families across socio-economic class met–and still meet—other families that are different and yet the same. Parents set up play dates, share rides, give and get advice, and bridge their social capital. Families aspire to be better and glean knowledge from people they would never encounter in their day to day. Everyone can learn from others through meaningful conversations about topics that matter.
A recent expansive study about the importance of bridging social capital made the front page of the New York Times.
“It’s a big deal because I think what we lack in America today, and what’s been dropping catastrophically over the last 50 years, is what I call ‘bridging social capital’ — informal ties that lead us to people who are unlike us,” said Robert Putnam, political scientist at Harvard.
“Growing up in a community connected across class lines improves kids’ outcome and gives them a better shot at rising out of poverty,” Raj Chetty, an economist at Harvard and one of the study’s four principal authors, told The Times.
You can access an interactive tool to find where different forms of social capital are lacking or flourishing; explore their connection to children’s chances of rising out of poverty; and develop solutions to increase social capital in your community here.
I encourage you to get to know other people who are not like you. They are everywhere. Building social capital could get you a new job, a friend you never thought you might have and, most importantly, expand your world view.