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What’s in your walet?

Social capital is the real currency

When the Capital One credit card “campaign” was launched in 2001, we were besieged with the phrase “what’s in your wallet”? I was really annoyed by this question and horrified by such offensive messaging. I was annoyed because I haven’t had a credit card in 30 years and my life is vastly improved by having been out of that vicious cycle.

I was horrified because we know consumption does not lead to happiness. The constant harangue to buy more (not to mention the co-optation of the public airwaves to push this dangerous impulse) is threatening life on this planet. Fundamentally, it struck me as a life-threatening message based on a lie.

What might be an antidote to the poison of such unhealthy and irresponsible messaging? Let’s consider asking ourselves what’s in your walet? The word walet (origin of the word wallet) is defined as a provisions bag, sack, pouch, or container for receiving offerings or blessings. It can also mean a bag of wisdom, or one’s store of good ideas. Considering the current state of planetary affairs, what might we most want and need in our blessing bag?

It’s apparent to many of us that modern society is plagued by fragmentation as demonstrated in businesses, schools, governments, social service organizations and churches, all of whom have been unable to work together effectively. Existing in separate worlds, this condition has been defined as
“The Silo Effect”.

Multiple studies have shown the dangers of maintaining business departments or societal systems in “silos” where innovative ideas die and communication consistently fails. This effect describes organizations typical in today’s world (despite its disadvantages) and also describes individual citizens who want connection but end up marginalized, with their talents overlooked, their potential contributions to solving problems lost. This disconnection and detachment make it hard, if not impossible, to envision a common future and work towards it together. What we evidently need in our walet is social capital.

The term social capital refers to “connections among individuals, social networks with the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.” The importance of generating social capital at this time cannot be overstated. The erosion of social bonds and connectedness is the first requirement for mass opinion formation underlying the development of governments that discourage individual freedom of thought and action.

Two examples are totalitarianism, which attempts to assert total control over the lives of its citizens, and authoritarianism, which directs the unquestioning submission of its citizens to authority. How can we work collectively to mitigate the erosion or loss of social capital, the first condition necessary for the formation of repressive systems?

One of my favorite ways to generate social capital is through the extension of hospitality and affection. Not only is this eminently practical, fun and rewarding, it’s congruent with universal wisdom practice “to love your neighbor.” When I’ve initiated this practice, I have reaped benefits greater than I could possibly have imagined.

Here is an example from my graduate school days at The Evergreen State College when I had a colleague living in Longview who traveled several times a week to and from Olympia to attend classes. Otherwise, she had to stay overnight in a motel to avoid the 150-mile round-trip the following day.

She was not someone I particularly wanted to get to know, but I was committed to building social capital and so extended hospitality to her. Getting to know her as she spent multiple nights on my futon couch and shared a tiny bathroom with me, were circumstances that bonded us together, leading to the development of a deep and precious friendship.

This would not have happened in the absence of this exchange and surprisingly, this friend turns out to be one of the most hospitable folks I know, an inspiration to me to continue the practice of extending hospitality.

I recommend this practice because when I turn toward someone, rather than away, I have consistently experienced the best in them, and in me. One way for me to experience the light has been by simply turning it on so a guest can see their way to my front door and bless me with social capital. Happily, this ensures I also have a place to land when needed, and that my walet is plump with provisions!

Ls.D lives in Olympia and has a Masters in Public Administration from The Evergreen State College.


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