And you thought the phrase “friends with benefits” only meant one thing. Shame, shame, shame on you with those lowly minds in the gutter. It turns out that the idea of social capital is an entirely different sort of friends with benefits arrangements that doesn’t have to take place between the sheets. What Jake Swank is (usually) talking about when he refers to social capital is the idea that the social networks we belong to have real value thanks to the “norms of reciprocity,” which is just a fancy way to say people who know and like each other tend to want to help one another out when they can.
It’s similar to the long-revered business practice of networking but goes above and beyond that sometimes mercenary practice to include a benefit flow in both directions, creating value for the people within the network and sometimes even innocent bystanders.
The actual term, social capital, has been with us since the first half of the nineteenth century when Alexis de Tocqueville made observations about American life that seemed to outline and define social capital. Specifically he noted citizens tended to gather at various places to discuss all manner of issues from the economy to issues of state to the dolt down the block whose rooster crows at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning.
These days our social capital has largely migrated into the online environment but that doesn’t mean we don’t still develop bonds from gatherings at the local watering hole, football stadiums on Saturday or Sunday afternoon, or for a 5K run for whichever charity is foremost in our minds at the moment.
What good is social capital? If you don’t grasp the inherent power there’s a good chance you probably don’t have much of it banked right now. An obvious specific benefit would be the case where you hear of a job opening before it’s even posted from the friend of a friend, and manage to sneak in a grab the manager’s attention before the masses come bursting through the door.
And where would collective action be without social capital to nurture it along? Neighborhood Watch programs are an excellent example of this idea. When the rest of a group keeps an eye on their neighbor’s house while he or she is away, well, you just witnessed social capital in action. The thing to remember is that social networks have value that goes well beyond posting a Facebook status update with each swig of your morning coffee. (Top image: Flickr | NinaZed)
The Swank Life Team