Social Capital and I

Warning: Very Long Post

Sis and I were chatting late yesterday night after a she came home from a gathering with her junior college mates. Somehow the topic turned to social capital.

In the family, Sis and Mum are the social capitalists. Both of them possess the indefinable quality that makes people want to confide in them, get close to them and love them. And they return the favour ten-fold. They are always the first to hold out a helping hand, and always without a thought to receive anything in return. Both have amassed a large group of close friends who genuinely care about them, and both are rightly quite proud of the fact.

In contrast, Dad and I don’t generally make or keep friends easily. We are pretty aloof and yes, you can even use the word cold hearted to describe us sometimes. I am also a lazy bum. Keeping up friendships take a lot of effort, especially for someone who needs a lot of “alone-time”. Watching my sister balancing her social engagements, even when she is sick, puts me off in a major way. Sometimes, it also feels like keeping up certain friendships is not worth the effort required.

So yesterday, Sis says that it eases her mind when she thinks about her friendships, because she knows that if anything bad ever befalls her, she has a network to support her. It is not necessarily financial, but also emotional and spiritual. And this is part of the reason why she is willing to go all out to accommodate her friends. She knows my personality, and also that I have few friends whom I meet up with only sporadically these days, and asked if I ever worried about having a support network for anything catastrophic should the other family members were not around one day for some reason or another (touch wood!).

This was something I had been thinking about for a long time actually. The first thing I did since reading about the concept years ago was to acknowledge that I didn’t really have a good social network. The other thing I did was to acknowledge that it was going to be hard work if I wanted to develop one. And was it even morally correct to enter into a friendship viewing it as “work”?

So I tried to see if I could get out of having one:

Financial: I am proud. Very proud. Maybe too proud. I cannot envisage going to anyone hat in hand, no matter how much I may need it. So I try to live my life in such a way that I will never land myself in that kind of a situation. My financial life is very conservative. Some people think it is too conservative for my age. While I made my decision to remain single and childless based on other aspects of my personality rather than from a financial standpoint, it does mean that I will have no dependents in future. I only need to take care of myself.

Emotional: I told Sis that having emotional support was the least of my worries in the face of any catastrophe. Some people draw strength from having people around them. I don’t. In fact, when bad things happen to me, I don’t want to socialize. I want to be alone. I usually tell my friends to back off until I am back on even keel. I don’t like to talk about things, and I need “alone-time” to resolve things. Having more friends probably mean having to say “Leave me alone” more frequently. Haha.

Non-financial help: This is the big dilemma for me. Inherently, I don’t like feeling obligated to anyone for anything, although I can probably swallow this type of help better than financial assistance. I try to be as independent as possible and fortunately, with the advent of internet, there are few things which an educated person cannot do by themselves, and spending money for paid assistance usually takes care of the rest. I would rather spend money than ask for help from friends and family. That said, I confess that I have been on the receiving end of such assistance, even though I never asked for it. And felt terribly guilty afterwards because I felt like I was incurring a debt which I can’t repay. And also felt like a big, fat hypocrite for going against my principles.

My conclusion was that I could probably get away with not having a good social network while I am young and healthy. One of the things I haven’t been able to address was if I got majorly sick. My partial solution so far was to ensure I have a sufficient financial safety net so that if it comes to that, I can get paid care. But I seriously can’t foresee if being seriously ill would change my emotional requirements. One reads all the time about people valuing person-to-person contact more after major illnesses.

 Quite serendipitously, JD at Get Rich Slowly posted an article on social capital just as I was writing this. He says:

“When I hear folks complain that they can’t get anyone to help them with a move or a chore, I think to myself that, for whatever reason, they’ve burned through all of their social capital. Maybe they have negative attitudes, maybe they never help anybody else, maybe they ask for help too often. Or maybe they’re new to an area and haven’t had time to build relationships and goodwill with the people around them. Whatever the case, their social-capital accounts are empty.”

So my final point to my sister was this: I know that my social-capital account is relatively empty. I am fully aware that I have never bothered to fill it. I try to live my life in a way that accommodates the lack. And I think that is fine, as long as I make sure no one else suffers from the lack but me, and I don’t whine about it.

I also realize that people change with time, and age may make me feel very differently. Personally, I think I’ll just try and adjust as I go along. Because going all out now to make friends and help others just for the sake of building up my social-capital account in case I should feel otherwise a few years later so feels totally wrong, like keeping score, as JD writes. I may be a friendless hermit, but I will try my best to be a principled one.

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