What is Social Capital?

Ned worked hard all his life upholstering and repairing furniture.   He never had the heart to charge anyone what his time was worth and put himself into every project.  As an artisan, Ned was accomplished, but as a business owner, he could barely made ends meet to provide for his family.  As more people began to discard old furniture and replace it with inexpensive modern furniture, his business failed.  Ned retired and put his meager life savings into a bad investment and ended up penniless.  He hasn’t been able to work for 23 years but during that time Ned and his wife Emma have been in good health, traveled and enjoyed benefits he could never afford while he was working.

The wealth Ned knew later in life came not from his work or good good luck, but from his four sons and three daughters.  They were all anxious to see that Ned and Emma had whatever money could afford because of gratitude they felt for the love and care they all received through the years.  I only met Ned during the last year of his life. During my last visit a week before he died, all his children and grandchildren were around the bed and I reminded him that he was a rich man.   Rich in relationships and goodness.  Ned looked up from his bed at his descendents and smiled, acknowledging his riches.

This wealth is social capital.  Ned’s social capital was turned into financial capital through the gifts of his family.  When made by obedience to moral principles, the transformation of social capital into material wealth multiplies social connections and rewards rather than depleting them.  Good will, generosity, gratitude and loyalty is multiplied through relationships and stories of caring, sacrifice and hope.  Social bonds are only strengthened when friendship forms a legitimate basis for buying and selling that serves the common good of all stakeholders.

Social capital is created wherever people genuinely serve each other without seeking personal gain.  Friendship for the sake of friendship alone increases social capital.  Likewise, caring for family members simply because they are family and a need exists will build commitment to community that can lead to practical help or increase in material resources.

Among our most valuable assets are the relationships we hold dear.  They are filled with hope, potential and security.  Guard these assets, but be willing to share or give them away.  This is how social capital increases.  Don’t squander friendship or treat it lightly.  Don’t take it for granted or allow it to be destroyed through neglect or abuse.

Practice the faithfulness that Ned did with his family.  Encourage, listen, support and serve those in your social network.  Treat each one with respect and care.   Watch your social capital increase.  Live with the wealth that Ned and Emma earned with each kind word and deed.  This is the recipe for true riches.

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