The Importance of Building Social Capital
It’s been said that life is meant to be shared. But why? Social capital—the meaningful and supportive connection to other—is as basic a human need as are shelter and clothing. Connection with supportive friends, neighbors and/or family does three important things: 1) it reduces stress and provides comfort, 2) it increases your resilience and 3) it increases your opportunities for growth. In this article, I will explain the power of human connection and how it builds worth beyond wealth.
The Biology of Human Connection
To begin, let’s be clear. The drive for interpersonal affiliation is not only social, it’s biological. It’s considered a core survival mechanism. Social biologists tell us that humans, and all mammals, have a structure buried deep within our brains that, by design, drives connection. They speculate that one of the keys to our survival across millennia has been that we are driven to live and work in groups. So important is this phenomenon to innovation, growth and even survival that it’s “hard-wired” neurologically. Charles Darwin himself observed that cohesive and supportive groups of people out-performed and out-survived less cohesive and supportive groups. Know that social isolation and conflict is not only psychologically pathogenic, it’s also socially destructive. Might this be a cautionary tale for the workplace and community life, in general.
Psychophysiologists and psychologists have long known the healing power of touch, verbal expression (catharsis) and even written expression. The ventilation of your frustrations and fears lowers your stress levels. The expression of your happiness releases mood-elevating brain chemicals. And social validation reduces the stress hormone noradrenaline while increasing the neurotransmitters serotonin, enhancing mood and dopamine, enhancing feelings of gratification and reward. No wonder the Roman philosopher Cicero observed that friends multiply joy and divide sadness.
Resilience is the ability to withstand or bounce back from adversity and even failure. Psychological science tells us that being connected to, and having the support of, others is the single best predictor of resilience. We often doubt our own ability to bounce back from rejection or failure, so we don’t try. When you hesitate from fear of personal rejection or failure, just remember anything worth having is worth failing for. With connection, there will always be someone there to soften the fall and help you get back up.
Connection Fuels Opportunity
In real estate, it’s location, location, location. In the behavioral sciences, it’s whom you know, whom you know, whom you know! Dr. John Krumboltz offers a rather renegade theory of career and life development called “happenstance theory.” He says, “What-you-should-be-when-you-grow-up need not and should not be planned in advance.” Instead, career counselors and life coaches should teach the importance of engaging in a variety of interesting and beneficial activities, meeting interesting and supportive people, and being ready for the opportunities you didn’t know existed. The key to finding unknown opportunities is connecting with others.
In 1927, Max Ehrmann wrote the now famous prose poem Desiderata (something which is desired or needed). Several lines are especially relevant in the quest to build social capital. Ehrmann wrote, “As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others…Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.” There are several personality types that may have difficulty being the type of supportive person you seek. The aggressive person has trouble respecting personal boundaries. They are fixated with the need to control. That usually includes you. The self-centered narcissist believes the world should revolve around them. They are interested in you only if it helps them. The drama king/queen lives from crisis to crisis. They are high energy and high maintenance. They acquire many acquaintances but have few, if any, real friends. Lastly, the passive-aggressive person’s favorite phase is “yes, but.” They are the contrarian who spends most of their energy convincing you and themselves why things cannot get done. So when someone does something that makes you question their sincerity, integrity or their ability to sustain a meaningful friendship, ask one simple question: “What kind of person behaves that way?” The most obvious answers may not be the ones you want to hear.
Our quest to build worth beyond wealth must include the creation of social capital. Supportive human connection makes you physically healthier, psychologically happier and in the final analysis is a “force multiplier.” So, who has your back?