As I share issues related to social capital with colleagues, the conversation usually starts with the notion of the importance of relationships in our lives. We know that the more connections we have the better the life outcomes. There is so much evidence of these realities that there is really no debate. Relationships are tied to better health, more happiness, greater life accomplishments, and even longer life expectancy.
Then the explorations quickly shifts to the struggles of building social capital for some groups of people who are at social risk. We know that some people have a more difficult time finding, building, or fitting in with possible friends. These folks then are at serious risk of social isolation, which has huge negative effects in people's lives. In fact, we know today that as many people die in the United States from social isolation as from all smoke related diseases and conditions, annually.
The natural next step in the process then is to look at ways and means that presently isolated people might be able to build more social capital. In this process, my colleagues and I have attempted to identify the important steps and stages. These include identifying the interests people have, then to explore the general community for matching groups. Next we want to identify the cultural expectations of these groups; and finally to find a "gatekeeper;" an indigenous member who is valued by others in the group to do some introductions.
All of this is well and good, yet there are friendship subtleties that are much harder to articulate and identify, that must be considered. These are those softer behaviors that align people to us; they include things like how we greet people, the spacing with others, the nature of the conversation, what we talk about, questions we might ask, things related to the topic, and things related to life.
Just think about those subtle social issues that annoy you with some of the people you relate to in social gathering points of your life. With these realities, most of us have learned through experience. Very rarely do people teach us these things, or that we attend a class that might review the "dos" and "don'ts" in social relationship.
Yet, these subtle aspects in socializing might be the key to friendship building. So, keep an eye on this blog as we explore more of these things down the road. More, if you have some thoughts on how these softer elements of relationships can be enhanced, feel free to share them here. Your ideas might be the key to helping folks build better social capital experiences.