Reader Submitted

Bedford Women’s Club ponders social capital

Friday, April 18, 2014

By Kathleen McMillan

Special to the Journal

When you put your lunch in the refrigerator at work, do you expect it to still be there at noon? When you come to a four-way intersection, do you expect other drivers to yield when it is your turn to proceed? When you send the IRS an honest tax return on April 15, do you expect your neighbors to do the same?

Our community of co-workers, citizens and neighbors works because we trust in the behavior of others.

This trust is a component of social capital and was one on the topics touched upon during a recent Bedford Women’s Club program.

The club hosted Mr. Lewis Feldstein, former president of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and co-author with Robert Putnam of the book, “Better Together: Restoring the American Community.”

Mr. Feldstein drew upon his long history of community involvement, including work with the civil rights movement in Mississippi and serving in senior staff positions to New York City Mayor John Lindsey.

He spoke about the ways community organizations like the BWC can help revive the American society that has seen a disengagement from political involvement, including decreased voter turnout, public meeting attendance and serving on committees. He questioned the technological “individualizing” of our leisure time via television, social media and the Internet with the eventual eroding of close-knit communities.

One of the tenants of social capital holds that the fellowship and camaraderie of the people you know has “value” in your life – hence the word capital. Your life connections turn out to have real concrete value!

Join just one organization and you benefit from the investment in your surroundings.

Well-connected individuals lead to well-connected communities, and Mr. Feldstein’s research has shown this connectivity leads to lives that are happier, healthier and safer.

A sad example of isolation he gave was a past Chicago heat wave where the single most significant predictor of mortality was being alone, having no local connections.

Another interesting topic discussed was the method of achieving social capital. Some networks link people who are similar in crucial respects – a bonding social capital – something akin to sociological super glue.

Others encompass different types of people and tend to be outward looking – bridging social capital – the sociological WD-40.

This distinction was illustrated by the “birds of a feather flocking together” bonding that might come easier than the kind of social capital that is essential for healthy public life in an increasingly diverse society; one that fosters social networks that “bridge” the various splits in contemporary American communities.

Co-First Vice President Gen Miller commented, “It was so interesting to learn why some communities work better than others. As a longtime resident of Bedford, I am proud to be part of the Bedford Women’s Club and to better understand why it and other community organizations are such an important asset to our community.”

The members of the Bedford Women’s Club recognize the ways we, in relationships, reach goals that would be far beyond the reach of individuals in isolation.

Our fundraisers for local charities and scholarships are a noteworthy example.

We enjoy the intrinsic satisfaction of association, of being part of a community with norms of reciprocity, mutual assistance and trustworthiness.

Kathleen McMillan is co-president of the Bedford Women’s Club.

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