Often, when we talk about social capital, the best reference point is to think about friends and family. In fact, a common approach for people to understand the essence of social capital is to identify our friends and family within the context of community. That is, we ask people to think about the various communities they participate in and to identify the people they are acquainted with, people they are friends with then finally, identify those that they deeply trust in that community. This type of sociogram paints a portrait of ones social capital and is a good way to understand this human dynamic. It creates a nice template to study or actually measure our relationships.
In thinking about social capital it is interesting to consider friends and family. Our friends are often freely chosen and they represent our intentional social capital; that is, these are the people that we feel fit into some frame of our lives. Through regularity and similarity, we come to develop these connections and can even elevate some people to “best friend” status. These relationships take work , however and if we find these friends beginning to drift from the things we feel are important, the friendship often can easily decline or end.
Family relationships are more tedious. We are thrust together with these people during family events and the key similarity is often the family blood we share. If they begin to drift, or a rift unfolds, these relationships are harder to adjust or end. Even if we feel distant, our overall family ties keep these folks in our orbit. In a way, you have to work harder with family than with friends. If a family relationship goes sour, you must work harder to right the ship. With non-blood connections, if things go south it is fairly easy to just walk away.
All social capital makes life more interesting. In fact, our social capital influences our health, happiness, self confidence, achievement, and even our life expectancy. More relationships lessen stress and help us resolve problems and issues that arise. Yet, the maintenance and nurturing of our social capital can be very different between our family and our friends.
As the cliche goes, you can choose your friends, but can’t chose your family!