I recently read most of a book titled “Bowling Alone”. And I say most of a book because it was 480 pages long and full of statistics – a fine subject someone else needs to study. The author, Robert Putnam, examined the decline of social organizations to discover why we had become a nation who no longer joined bowling leagues or other civic organizations, but preferred to bowl alone. He called it a “significant decline in social capital”, starting in the mid- to late sixties, when I came of age.
Dr. Putnam defines social capital as having two parts: binding capital and bridging capital. Binding capital is what we do when we attend worship services. We are meeting with people who are similar to us in some way; we are creating a community of like-minded people. Binding capital has a dark side: it can become too important to all be alike, it can become exclusionary. The other part of social capital is the bridging part, when a group of people interact with one another. Despite their differences, they find common ground and work together for a common purpose. We do that when we host the undocumented Dreamers, or participate in the Martin Luther King Day parade or the Atlanta Pride Festival. It is the bridging capital that creates society and social advances; things like public schools, public health, and the civil rights movement.
It has taken me a long time to be comfortable with the idea of community and to find a community with which I am comfortable. I stay on this journey because it helps me divest myself of fear. Now that I am more aware of my many connections, human and otherwise, and how my own identity is defined by them, I have a greater appreciation for community, and the significance of social capital.
How does your connection with your community infuse meaning into your life? How are you changed by that connection?