Building Social Capital (the series): Taking on Community Engagement

Are u building Social Capital? (c) 2013 Amberwood Media Group

CHARLOTTE, NC. June 2013, by

As builders start building again and we resume the race to keep up with the 21st century, I’m compelled to ask:  how long has it been since we’ve felt truly connected with our communities?  Many I know are reporting gaps .. whether it be with their church, gym, PTA, or even the local neighborhood association.  Oh sure, we may still be there physically.  But ..

To what extent are we participating?  How many of the people around us do we actually know?  Are we in the crowd going through the motions, obsessively checking our smart phones, but not engaged?

Chances are we know the answer to that one.  Here’s another key question:

If and when we DO engage in our communities, what are our motivations?

If we answered the second question:  to “survive”,  “fit in” or “claim our rightful share” I’d argue that we’ve lost touch with what’s important.  Where once we knew our neighbors well and we knew what we stood for .. ok, I may be going back a few decades .. now it seems we find ourselves more and more isolated, cut off from the deep and nurturing social connections that humans thrive on.  Our consumer and work-saturated culture seems to have trumped our core values, and the path to a better place is less than clear.  We’re in a bit of a pickle.

A Clarion Call for Leadership.  We need a new vision, to me that’s clear.  But leadership in the societal (not using “social” here on purpose) space is tricky.  For community leadership to work, the energy must come from the rank and file .. from the inside out and the bottom up.  Seth Godin in “Tribes” builds strong arguments around the need for leadership from the inside .. getting people who are used to not leading to start leading .. sometimes, by creating spaces and situations and cultures that empower.

No small task, that.  But one that holds significant possibilities.

Why?  Because it’s an approach that can scale.

But that means some of the leaders, if not the vast majority, will be folks like you and me.  Working types.  And for many of us, leadership is not something we’re  used to.  Can we play?  I say yes.

Social Possibilities.  Communities offer a broad landscape of opportunity, really.  I’d argue that we need to invest our time and energy before we find our social systems past a point of no return.  Cynics have declared that we’re too late.  But ..

I believe we are just now starting to mobilize our thinking. We’re learning to focus our energies, and .. this is important ..  connecting people in ways that literally unlock their creative potential.

It’s time for us to stop being alone with our televisions  and to start engaging in our communities again.  The applies both offline (in real life) and online (virtual).  It’s not so hard.  We learned how to do it on the playground.  If our kids are out their having fun, taking chances, building sand castles, and making new friends, why can’t we?

When we engage in a real way, we’re building social capital .. putting together the skills, resources and networks that can help us learn, in turn helping us to help others.

As that happens, we start raising the water level of what’s possible.

Ultimately, we can change the game.

Get Started Getting Social.  This post starts a new blog series on social capital.  In coming posts we’ll take the notions apart so we can rebuild them into something that we’ll find practical and useful.  And we’ll tap some of the approaches in my book, helping us to take inventory of the barriers and enablers we’ll need to master along the way ..

I’ll post links to subsequent posts here, as well as in the sidebar Editorial Calendar.

In the meantime?  No waiting around.  Connect.  Engage.  Get social. We’ve lost ground, and some precious time.  If you have to, ask your kids how they do it !!  [ .. on that note? .. cue Angela Maiers and her Sandbox Manifesto .. ]

I hope you’ll stop back in.  We’ve got work to do.

14 thoughts on “Building Social Capital (the series): Taking on Community Engagement

    • Excellent post on your site, Sean. Left a comment there as well. I think the base of your collaboration pyramid, requiring clear visibility to purpose and values, is what collaborators are often missing. The steps to get there .. including seeking new collaborators and establshing a trusted network .. are part and parcel to what I see as “Building Social Capital” .. the subject of this new series.

      Let’s stay in touch as both threads evolve ..
      Lots to learn .. but we gain momentum by the exchange ..


  1. Hi Chris, these are the real issues you pose here. Why? Because in the coming decades as a society we have no choice. We will face many challenges that will require cooperative efforts if we want to maintain all the luxury we have today. If we succeed, the positive side-effect is that we will not take this luxury for granted for a while. Until new technologies gives us new ‘endless’ possibilities that will bring us back from community to individuality.

    • I think the “luxuries” are to a degree part of the problem that limits social capital in some contexts. Face to face time can be a more visceral and productive way to collaborate, but tech luxuries limit our ability to experience that proximal connection… the limbic loop, so to speak. Mirror neurons don’t fire the same way (or at all) when physical presence is absent.

    • Bas and Sean,

      You both raise good points, my friends ..

      We take much for granted in this world .. not just luxuries but also friends, neighbors and sometimes even relatives. The luxuries we might manage to hang onto while we sort out our future and our priorities, but relationships, left untended, can fade.

      Agree about the limbic kick of face to face relations, which will always fuel incrementally stronger bonds than what’s possible with virtual. But I’ve been amazed at the learning and friendships that ARE possible virtually .. including the in-depth dialogs we’ve had with each over the last few years. We are in the U.S., the Netherlands and Canada, respectively, talking about community. In itself, that is worth reflection.

      Social capital is a powerful force.

      As I think about where this series might go, I’m pondering the brick and mortar vs. the virutal. Peter Block speaks in a way that applies, I think, to both .. intentionally or not .. and he has clearly been a big influence on my thinking re: community ever since Paul and Jenna teed this work up for me at ECOSYS.

      Thanks as always for being catalysts, guys .. I’m grateful for it.

      Much more soon .. I’m with Bas, lots to unpack here ..


  2. As Bas said, these are the real issues (outlined) here. I don’t like saying this, but I think (& especially from a North American POV) it’s going to be a generational thing. The above-40’s have had the psychological near-DNA level belief(s) about work and material affluence and comfort pounded into them, and without those the majority of them are fearful (unless pensioned). That fear keeps them consuming in (generally) comfort .. except for the unemployed (who in turn have more existential fears to worry about). I see evidence all around me that the younger generation is rejecting much of what went before … perhaps because they’re faced with some very stark realizations. Maybe I’m wrong .. when I was 25 I was certain the world would be more peaceful and less anxious, and look what happened ;-) I suspect that we’ll end up engaging, but because ‘we’ are forced to. Survival in the face of sequential-ents-based systemic collapse. I sure wish I could see things unfolding differently, but so far I am unable to. I am somewhat assuming that the above comments referring to limbic issues are also referring to comfort, complacency and fear-when-threatened proclivities.

    • So many powerful thoughts, Jon, building on those from Bas & Sean. You guys are helping to shape the next post in the series ..

      Some initial thoughts:

      re: generational divides, there is no escaping generational factors; I recall that most up-and-coming generations, not burdened by failures or wars, tend to have more optimistic views, and frankly we need that energy; here again, all generations will need to work together; I don’t think tensions or gaps are as wide now as say in the 60’s. Seems we have more concerns in common now .. am I naive? I hope not.

      re: limbic lock, I know about this best via psychologist Daniel Goleman (the EQ/SQ guy) who talks about it as the neuro chemical process that happens when two people connect f2f; in the modern world it might pass for chemistry. Sean, more ideas here?

      re: global futures, I agree Jon, many future scenarios are dim; comparisons to Roman or British Empires are easy to draw, and they speak to the limits of greed and an accumulation of affluence that draws the “have mosts” away from the “have not enoughs” .. and things eventually fall apart, or at least, change drastically. A society centered on the accumulation of money and power starts to suboptimize at some point, yes? I guess they don’t teach that to MBA’s or econ majors ..

      I put stock in the ability for people to engage, and, yes, collaborate, because to me the emergent thinking possible via social interactions .. social complexity, if you will .. is our only real chance. The problems are too interconnected to solve any other way.

      The view from Charlotte, NC, subject to change as new ideas come in .. which of course, on here, they always do :) Grateful for the insights, guys. Always, looking forward ..


  3. the emergent thinking possible via social interactions .. social complexity, if you will .. is our only real chance.

    That seems clear to me. That’s really all we’ve got left, no ? No more white knights or great heros, although in order to coalesce I’m thinking some kind of lightning rod is / will be necessary. I’ve been wondering if the NSA revelations might do it, but I don’t think so. I wonder what the great coalescing will look like and where it will start, if it does.

    • Hi Jon,

      Sorry to let your last post go unanswered. Was far too large a gap. But as it happens, in the intervening months there’s a new thread I’m picking up and hoping to advance: “social change” .. loosely defined as the conditions, skills and target outcomes necessary to influence large scale change in a global ecosystem.

      We’ve been commenting here re: social capital.
      That’s a big part of it.

      But there’s even more to the story as we start to frame what social change means and how we go about it. This was a summary post, which included a link to an earlier frame re: “what is possible?” ..

      We discuss it every 4th WEDS at 1pET at hashtags #smchat #socialchange

      Would love your insights Jon, as we continue to ask deeper and better questions ..


  4. Pingback: Foundations: Social Media for Social Change [8/28 1pET] | #SMCHAT

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