Why Social Capital is Important

Why Social Capital is Important

Social capital and trust between people is essential to a thriving society. Here’s why.

If we want to create a culture of giving and support, we can just take. We have to give too. Don't be afraid to be compassionate.

According to studies of violence in society there is a significant correlation between violence and income inequality, as well as a lack of social capital. (see this article on Why is America so Violent, the answer may surprise you – http://aninlandvoyage.com/2012/12/30/why-is-america-so-violent-the-answer-may-surprise-you/ for links to the research being cited and analysis. – it’s a great article)

According to Eric Michael Johnson, an evolutionary anthropologist, “Income inequality alone explained 74% of the variance in murder rates and half of the aggravated assaults. However, social capital had an even stronger association and, by itself, accounted for 82% of homicides and 61% of assaults.”

So what is social capital? According to Wikipedia, “social capital is the expected collective or economic benefits derived from the preferential treatment and cooperation between individuals and groups.”  Lack of social capital means that people don’t expect cooperation or good treatment from the group or society in which they live. And it turns out this lack of trust impacts the level of violence in society.

But what about guns? 

Well, it turns out that lack of social capital is responsible for the increase in the number of guns.  The studies cited in the article imply that lack of trust is tied to homicide rate and rate of gun ownership.

In order to curb violence, we have to restore our social capital. Amongst everyone, especially the most vulnerable. We can’t afford to have people marginalized and unable to access societal resources because of income inequality.

We have to start recognizing that everyone person is special and has something to offer and that our society should respect the social contract we have with each other, including with the people we don’t know and honestly don’t really like, because a society that respects everyone, respects us and helps us to thrive and helps reduce violence among us.

Which brings me to Mr. Rogers.

A couple of years ago, conservatives at Fox news dissed Mr. Rogers.  (see: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/04/30/862248/-Fox-News-goes-after-Mr-Rogers)

Why did they diss Mr. Rogers? Because his message was that we are all special and have something to contribute. They were making fun of his commitment to compassion for everyone and implying that by saying everyone is special, that implies they are entitled to societal benefits without earning them.  And apparently, they don’t like that idea very much.

The problem is that this lack of social trust, that is implicit in the dissing of Mr. Rogers is responsible for increased levels of gun ownership (to protect ourselves from “others), and increased social inequality and increased levels of violence.

If we are going to create a more just society where we don’t all need to own guns in an everyone is out for themselves sort of way, we need to actively encourage humanistic compassion.

The importance of compassion

Lack of trust stems from a lack of compassion. It results when we are unable to see other people as a person of value. When we don’t value other people we not only tolerate vast income inequality, we encourage it. We not only tolerate the lack of social trust and social capital, we encourage it.  Fear begets fear.

Consider the murder of Trayvon Martin.  He was just a kid trying to get home in the rain. What about the guy who was shot by officers while looking for help after an auto accident? (see: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/unarmed-man-possibly-looking-for-help-after-wreck-shot-by-police/)  And this woman who was shot who was also looking for help who was shot by a homeowner she had approached for help  (see – http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/07/us/michigan-woman-shot/)

What do all these situations have in common? Lack of trust. The people involved, instead of seeing someone who might need help, saw someone who might hurt them and responded in fear. Fear that led them to shoot first and ask questions later. They never bothered to find out if their fears were justified or not. They never doubted their fears or even tried to remind themselves that this person, whatever their intention, was human and perhaps they should give them the benefit of the doubt.

The tragedy of these situations is that they were preventable.  If we had more social trust, these people would have gotten the help they sought, instead of being shot.  Trust requires compassion. Compassion that helps us see our fellow humans, not as threats, but as potential allies. People who would help us as we ourselves want to be helped when we have a problem. Compassion breeds trust, and reduces senseless fear based violence.

Does humanity need humanism?  Yes. Yes it does. Let’s get started! Refuse to accept the status quo and do what needs to be done to create a more just and compassionate society. For everyone!