In the wake of COVID 19, Glen Pearson writes, we are reconsidering the notion of social capital:
What is social capital? It is actually something quite real, practiced, and built upon. It is about reciprocity between people and groups. It is about a trust learned in hardship, a network of practical needs and ideals, and a rediscovery of civil society as something more powerful than government, more enriching than finances, and more social than anything social media can attempt. It is only actualized by doing, not by preaching, or soapboxing, or manufacturing press releases. It takes the word “capital” and recaptures it back to its original sense of a place where people gather to make decisions instead of leaving it as some kind of financial resource.
Social capital has little to do with people holding money in common. The capital we are talking about here is cooperation, collaboration, the putting aside of differences, the use of the political to locate common ground instead of mud to throw. It includes those historic and shared virtues like truth-telling, the importance of personal stories, the following through on promises, forgiveness, collective and individual, restitution, the essence of faith, and the transformation of collective action.
The core of social capital, its ultimate reason for existence, is for the public good, not private enrichment. This is perhaps too much to ask on a regular basis, since all of us need a measure of selfishness and a certain preoccupation with our own activities. But in a crisis – war, economic depression, natural disasters, and, yes, a pandemic – the ability to put one’s personal pursuits aside in an effort to achieve the security of the greater good is not only possible, but historically quite prevalent and doable.
At this moment it's essential that we think seriously about social capital:
If we don’t capture the spirit of our unique possibilities of rediscovering social capital during this time of not only national, but global crisis, then the post-COVID-19 future will proceed without us – devoid of our input, stripped of our ideals, and ultimately uncaring of our tomorrows or our children’s tomorrows.
We have spent the last fifty years fixated on economic growth:
We all recognized one another at a distance on our way to materialistic bliss in recent decades, but we were too busy buying to be building. In the process, our citizenship power got away from us as our purchasing power became our fixation. But now, in this pandemic, we are suddenly noticing one another again, respecting the health of others, donating like never before to our most vulnerable, and even showing remarkable restraint from pounding one another to death on social media. Something is going on that’s quite beautiful in its own way, as communities recover their sense of collective need and collective action.
This is the time to reclaim our rights as citizens and to redefine our purposes. Otherwise, all of this pain will have been wasted.