The notion of social capital first appeared in the literature in 1914 and since that time has been explored by academics as to its impact and benefit to society. Most of the early studies were buried in the sociological literature until the concept was popularized by Harvard sociologist, Robert Putnam in the mid-90's. In fact, Putnam's book, Bowling Alone, which came out in 2000, began to spread the concept of social capital into many fields.
In preparation for a presentation I was to do, I pulled out my copy of Bowling Alone and reread the book this past weekend. In this work, Putnam looks at the civic significance of relationships and how building social capital makes our communities better. The book is a good read, and its relevance still has impact to this day, some 18 years later.
In one section of his book, Putnam writes about how relationships help people resolve problems, and become more tolerant and willing to understand each other. One issue that really stood out to me was the fact that social capital reduces "pugnaciousness." I remember when I first read the book looking up the concept of "pugnaciousness." I wanted to get a better sense of what he meant.
Pugnaciousness is defined as having a quarrelsome or combative nature - to want to fight with people; and I have to believe that it is on the rise in the United States. From the President, who seemingly wants to fight with everyone, and has made bullying fashionable, to the guy on the street who is willing to pull a gun on the person who took the parking space he was waiting for, pugnaciousness seems to be commonplace.
In Bowling Alone, Putnam suggests that when people come to know each other, their pugnaciousness (at least between them) goes down. But if people remain distant or anonymous from each other, it is easier for them to end up in a fight.
Now I am not sure how much social capital lessen pugnaciousness, or, for those folks who have a pugnacious nature, can be softened by a relationship, but I have to believe that it helps. More, I am convinced that although pugnaciousness (due to the cultural acceptance of influential, mean-spirited people), is on the rise in our society, it can be lessened through the power of relationships. In essence, the more you come to know someone, the harder it is to be mean to them.
So take a minute now, to reflect on pugnaciousness. Be aware of its toxic, spreadable nature, and do your best to not be drawn into the fray. My mother used to tell me that fighting doesn't really solve problems. The older I become, the smarter my parents seem to be.