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Archive for November, 2012

I live in a really awesome town.

Many of my readers are from Goshen, and know what I’m talking about. For the rest of you, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

I’ve lived in several places in Indiana, Michigan and Tennessee. Goshen is by far my favorite place to live.

Goshen is the right mix of hipsters and homebodies; progressives and conservatives; and ludites and techies. Goshen is home to Amish, Mennonite, Hispanic, and other communities.  Elkhart County is home to creative folks including artists and entrepreneurs. We have a vibrant artist community with guilds for pottery, jewelry, photography, painting, and woodworking. We have a rich culture.

While our economy was in the dumps during the recession, Goshen was growing it’s downtown with tons of new stores opening up on Main Street. How many communities can say that?

My husband likes to say this of Goshen, “We have one of everything you need for a good place to live: one great bookstore, one great bar, one great coffee shop.”

You get the picture.

I am not a rat.

Here’s what I really love about Goshen: We aren’t in a rat race around here.

People always wave you on at four way stops–sometimes to the point of ridiculousness. What’s so great about that?

It’s a symbol of being neighborly, friendly, and kind.

When you wave on another car, you aren’t judging their political position, their race, their religion, their gender, their job, their place in society. You’re just being friendly and putting someone else before yourself.

I like that people around here are okay with losing the five seconds that it takes to let someone else go first.

Bridge the gap.

So, my friend Claudia and I have been talking some about social capital. Claudia explained to me that social capital is the value or benefit that communities gain from cooperating and supporting one another. There are two types of social capital: bonding and bridging.

The way I understand it, is that bonding is within groups that already have something in common. Claudia and I became friends as we carpooled together, ate together, and shared recipes. We are friends and have the bonding type of capital.

The value here is that we know we can count on one another. I watched her dog one day while she was out of town. When she wanted to immediately make up for it, I said don’t sweat it, because friends give and take. Sure enough, we had dinner at their house a few weeks later–social capital.

The other type of capital is bridging capital. Bridging social capital is when groups of unlike people come together, give and take, and find common ground. Goshen has a variety of rich cultures represented, but we are often floating around in our own inner circles.

Bridging capital is waving on stranger and putting them first.

Since Claudia introduced me to the idea of bridging capital, I’ve been intrigued. I keep trying to think of more ways to bridge the communities within our community. Each community has a richness to it. Our community is already pretty great. Imagine what it would be like if our micro-communities started sharing our strengths with one another.

We’ve already proved that we are a resilient community as we continued to grow together through a recession. But there were still people hurting and isolated–and that hurts us all in the end.

What would this community look like if we start reaching outside of our comfort zones?

What if we invite an English as a second language speaking neighbor to dinner? What if we help a neighbor rake his yard even though there was an opposing political sign out front? What if we find questions to ask people when we first meet that don’t depend on their job or status and cut to who they are as a person? What if we take time to listen?

How can we be intentional of expanding our own social groups to include others that aren’t exactly like ourselves?

This way of looking at the world has been kind of fun. In the last few weeks since Claudia and I had our conversation about social capital, I’m finding myself slowing down and listening to others.

What do you think? How can we build social capital in our communities? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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