In his best-selling book entitled, Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam outlines that social capital and civic engagement have declined in areas such as organizational membership, attending religious services, attending club meetings, marriage, bowling leagues and interacting with others face-to-face. He finds that connections in the workplace and with family and friends have also declined. Volunteering, reciprocity, and trust in others are on a downward trajectory.
Though experts debate the term’s precise meaning, “social capital” generally refers to the health of interpersonal relationships and positive social connections. Health professionals are concerned that Americans are increasingly isolated and unhappy, which is manifested in the weakening of the “bridging” and “bonding” forces that build social structures affecting mental health and overall well-being. Putnam goes even further and opines that social capital is a key component to building and maintaining a functional democracy.
The causes for this decline are numerous and complex. Experts highlight that financial anxiety and the changing workplace, along with mobility away from nuclear families and suburbanization, account for a portion of the change. Putnam has unmasked that the internet is a possible cause due to the tremendous time-suck of multiple ways to feast on social media, the internet and entertainment options that are endless.
With the constant chatter of economic, health and social disparities, social capital is considered a major causal factor. The downward social capital spiral is more evident and pronounced in lower socio-
economic communities who have seen a decline in marriage rates, a spike in non-marital childbearing, substance abuse, homelessness, mental distress, isolation and rising male unemployment. Certain areas of the country, particularly rural areas, have been hit hard by an epidemic of drug addiction and economic downturns.
The decline in social capital has several consequences for society. When social capital is high, children do better in school, neighborhoods are safer, people prosper, the government is better due to a higher civic-engagement rate and accountability from constituents. People are generally happier and healthier. A deficit in social capital leads to more suicide, depression, crime, and other social problems.
Social policy should be aimed at strengthening the family, creating more neighborhood recreation centers, making schools a hub of social and recreational activity as well as academic opportunity for all ages. Developers should attempt to create sidewalks, community pools and activity centers to galvanize the new neighborhood with opportunities for neighbors to get to know one another. Those who are currently in neighborhoods that feel like residents are isolated should take the lead and host community progressive dinners, barbeques, events, block parties, fun-runs and holiday open houses increasing networking opportunities. Workplace leaders should find ways for their employees to get to know one another independent of their job duties. Faith leaders should make every effort to reach out to their community and find ways to serve and connect outside the walls of their facility. They should increase the number of small groups they have creating spaces for folks to have dinner with one another or have an event that intrigues and captivates even the most resistant isolated members. Let’s face it, no one likes bowling alone. email@example.com; www.myrelationshipcenter.org
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