Social Capital and the Neighborhood Exchange

It's been a while since I've raved about the joys of social capital. For those who haven't been exposed to the concept, social capital is the mutual goodwill generated whenever you volunteer at a soup kitchen, help your neighbor move a piano, have your Sunday School class over for a barbecue, or join a softball league. Any time you participate in your community, you're generating social capital, both for yourself and for the other people involved.

People with lots of social capital can find help when they need it; those with little social capital can spend a lot of time frustrated and alone.

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.

On the other hand, I also see folks an the other end of the spectrum. Any time these people need help, their friends, family, and neighbors are there to help. Why? Because through their actions, they've accumulated an enormous store of goodwill. Others are willing to help them because, in the past, they've helped others. In short, they have a vast reserve of social capital.

Most of us fall somewhere between the two extremes. For myself, I try to help others when I can — but I don't do it as often as I could. Becca moved from L.A. to Portland this week, for instance, and needed help unloading stuff into her new apartment. I was free, so I helped. But there have been other times I haven't helped a friend or acquaintance. As a result, I don't have a huge reserve of social capital but, like most people, I do have some.

As I've mentioned from the start of this site, one reason Kris and I love our neighborhood is that the folks around us instinctively understand the idea of social capital. We don't intrude into each other's lives, but we do look out for each other, and we try to lend support.

What do I mean? Let me give some examples.

From the day we moved in, Tom and Roberta next door have shared their resources and advice. They told us about the history of our house. They gave us some 25-year-old blueberry plants and some grape cuttings. They let us pick their apples and pears. Tom gave me his old darkroom equipment.

In return, we helped them with chores now and then. Kris baked them bread and cookies and shared her canned goods. When Tom died last winter, you can bet we attended his funeral. Now that Roberta is alone, we help her when she asks.

Speaking of which, the renter next door often helps Roberta. Chris is a young man who is out of work. In between looking for jobs, he goes across the street to prune hedges and mow the lawn and do small repairs.

Because I'm increasingly frustrated with the amount of time I spend in our yard, and because I want more time to write (a task that helps me earn money), I've been looking to hire somebody to do yardwork. (This was a GRS reader idea, for which I thank you all.) It seems like a natural choice to hire Chris to pull the morning glory and remove the ancient laurels.

So, that's what we've done — at least on a trial basis. He's outside right now preparing to prune some of our large shrubs. I'm inside writing. It's probably an economic wash, but I'm doing something I like instead of something I dread.

Meanwhile, the network of social capital goes on. Last fall, I loaned my chainsaw to another neighbor. Upon its return, it got placed beneath a leak in the roof. As a result, the chainsaw case was filled with water. No worries. Chris knows how to work with small engines, so he's pulled the chainsaw apart and is drying it out. (This is something far beyond my ken.)

“Do you have a small gas can that we can use to mix the chainsaw fuel?” he asked just now.

“No,” I said, “but I'll bet John does.”

John is my real millionaire next door. He's a retired shop teacher who spends his summers on a boat in Alaska. He's given me free rein over his property while he's gone, which usually just means that I borrow his orchard ladder (I &heart; his orchard ladder) and drag my yard debris back to his burn pile. But sometimes it means that I borrow his tools. So, I walked across the street to rummage through his collection of gas cans (he has many) until I found one suitable for our purposes.

In exchange, of course, I do things for John. When he's not around, I get his mail. If his sons aren't able, I mow his lawn. I prune his cherry tree (in exchange for cherries). When he's home and needs help, I lend a hand.

There are other neighbors around, of course, and each is more or less involved in this neighborhood exchange. But the folks who are more involved have greater social capital. The more they're willing to help, the more others are willing to help them.

Again, this isn't a conscious, explicit thing. It's just something that happens naturally. As we interact with each other in our daily lives, we remember those who help us, and we're more willing to help them when the time comes. Sometimes there's a dark side to social capital; this can be seen when people “keep score” (and is best typified by The Godfather). But most of the time, social capital is a good thing — a very good thing. It builds relationships and builds communities. In many ways, it's more valuable than money.

More about...Psychology

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Everyday+Tips
Everyday+Tips
9 years ago

Glad you decided to hire someone to do the yard work!

Your neighborhood sounds so wonderful. Sure the yard might be a pain and the house might be a little big for two people. However, you can’t buy good neighbors unfortunately. I would love to live where you do where people help each other out. Where I live, people pull in the garage and shut the door immediately.

Building social capital is a wonderful thing. The feeling you get from helping someone out that truly appreciates it is so worth the time spent.

Petra
Petra
9 years ago
Reply to  Everyday+Tips

At least where you live, people have a garage…

Perhaps you could try and organize a neighborhood barbecue or neighborhood sushi?

STRONGside
STRONGside
9 years ago

One thing I have been very surprised at is how shut off our neighborhood is, and how much a garage door will affect the concept of ‘social capital”. So many of my neighbors will open their garage doors, pull in their garage in the evenings, and then shut the door behind them before they even get out of the car. Like some super secret spy operation, they enter into their house without even tasting fresh air. It’s sad to see, but also depressing as I have made attempts to meet my neighbors but so far, have not developed more than… Read more »

Jane
Jane
9 years ago
Reply to  STRONGside

This is an excellent point and explains one reason why we have so much social capital on our block. We all live in 1920s bungalows close together with no garages and big front porches. Our neighbors also all have dogs, which means that we see them almost daily during their walks. I’ve noticed that the neighbors who have deep driveways or garages and primarily go into their homes through their back entrance are the most distant and unknown. Of course, social capital must also be intentional. We were lucky when we moved in to be invited to a monthly neighborhood… Read more »

Brent
Brent
9 years ago

I am way more cautious than you, also my neighborhood is a tad bit more dangerous. I know my immediate neighbors by name, but not beyond that. There is a serious risk that arises when you expose your schedule and home to more people. I have other friends in my city so moving or large projects I can still handle, but I urge caution. One neighbor of mine had all of his belonging stolen because he let a person in to help move some things.

Carla
Carla
9 years ago
Reply to  Brent

That’s why I prefer to hire professionals and even that’s no guarantee.

SB @ One Cent At A Time
SB @ One Cent At A Time
9 years ago

What you tries to say but didn’t put down is social capital saves money. But they do take your time. When you could be earning money you are busy building social capital. A goodwill a good gesture goes a long way. And getting help in need is priceless. When I go for long vacation, my plants are watered by my neighbor. If the plants die, I will have to shell out only $50 at max to purchase them again. But to me the value of my existing plants are priceless! Social capital goes a long way and we should not… Read more »

Max From Liquid
Max From Liquid
9 years ago

“Social Capital” works on a macro level as well. I’ve always believed, and have witnessed, that when you throw out to the cosmos, the cosmos throws back…multifold.

Currently I’m involved in my community in creating a Durable Medical Equipment exchange. There are thousands of people who have wheelchairs and the like sitting in their garages and many folks who need the equipment, but cannot afford it. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Kristen
Kristen
9 years ago

Max- that is a FANTASTIC idea! Are you documenting the process anywhere so that you can share your progress and how-to tips with others for similar projects?

Gizmosdad
Gizmosdad
9 years ago

Like Kristen said — can you provide details? It sounds REALLY interesting.

Tracy
Tracy
9 years ago
Reply to  Gizmosdad

I worked on an exchange start up for a year. We documented a lot of need and equipment, but a system to connect the two was missing. Our state worked with Goodwill to start a reuse shop. Programs exist in many states and you can check out http://www.passitoncenter.org/ to find out where other programs exist across the country. Good luck, Max!

slccom
slccom
9 years ago
Reply to  Tracy

Before you reinvent the wheel, check to see if your local fraternal organizations, such as the Masons, Eagles, etc. have already set this up. In my husband’s Masonic Lodge, you certainly don’t have to belong to borrow something.

Shauna
Shauna
9 years ago
Reply to  Gizmosdad

This is really interesting. We just recently had a friend lose a leg, and with no insurance we had to start working our connections to get him some of the things he needed. Through those connections we’d obtained: -a wheelchair -a power scooter -a shower chair -advice on building ramps -neighbors willing to go to other states to pick up the equipment mentioned above -moving help -a place for him to stay until he’s able to go back to work -offers of meal delivery in the first couple weeks when he’s out of the hospital -money to help with whatever… Read more »

Beth
Beth
9 years ago

I love this idea too.

If your neighbourhood doesn’t have such an exchange, you can do what my parents did. They donated my grandmother’s wheelchair to the nursing home where she had lived. There are always people who can’t afford equipment.

Lee
Lee
9 years ago

Our greyhound got away from us this weekend and promptly dissapeared into the woods. We searched for an hour with no luck, so we posted up on facebook and within 30 minutes we had 10+ people and dogs helping with the search. He was found a couple hours later, no doubt after having a nice nap in some tall grass.

The social capital concept applies to this situation because we’re active in our ‘greyhound community’. We’ve invested in our dog (training) and other peoples dogs (help, dog-sitting, etc) and the social capital was there when we really needed it.

Claudia
Claudia
9 years ago
Reply to  Lee

Yay for greyhounds! We are currently dogless–:(– but really got to know a lot of people while out walking in our neighborhood with our dogs.

Angus Dockrill
Angus Dockrill
9 years ago

The great thing about ‘Social Capital’ is that we can create it ourselves. We don’t have to rely on government, our employer or Wall Street – which, let’s face it, is a good thing!

It’s an investment that will give you a great return. The more the better I say!

Adam P
Adam P
9 years ago

I like helping friends out, and am the first one to volunteer use of my car (I live downtown in a big city, few of my friends own cars) or help in a move or donate to their charity/fundraising activity; whatever help they need. However, I *HATE* asking for help from people. I can’t stand it, and will always pay for a professional to do something rather than have a friend help out (or just donate the money myself in a fundraiser rather than solicit friends). I think it’s a fear of debt, even if it’s social capital debt rather… Read more »

indio
indio
9 years ago
Reply to  Adam P

The concept of “owing” a neighbor after they have helped you out is an interesting one. Over the past 14 years, my back door neighbor has helped me in many ways, like installing a window, has cut down a small dead tree that he didn’t like looking at and some other ways. In turn, he has borrowed power washer (returned broken), gets pounds of extra produce from my garden, jams, pies and has regularly sent his young son over to my house to play with my kids, because he is an only child. On average, their son was at my… Read more »

Anne
Anne
9 years ago
Reply to  indio

If your “backyard chickens” included a rooster, I bet there was a disagreement!

indio
indio
9 years ago
Reply to  Anne

No, my chickens didn’t include a rooster. I don’t like being woken up at the crack of dawn so I wouldn’t do it someone else.

PawPrint
PawPrint
9 years ago
Reply to  Adam P

I, too, don’t like to owe people in any form, although I do like to help. This summer I had to get over my dislike of owing people because I really needed help in my yard while my husband was going through chemo. Members of his work team came by every two weeks and weed whacked, which is the only chore I just can’t do. I did “repay” them by baking great treats, which is something I enjoy doing. I realized that as much as I like to help people, people like to help me and don’t regard it as… Read more »

slccom
slccom
9 years ago
Reply to  PawPrint

My Grandma Freda taught me that sometimes the greatest give you can give is to accept something from someone else.

Beth
Beth
9 years ago
Reply to  slccom

Smart woman! 🙂

Gifts and compliments can be the hardest things to accept — but something we should learn to do gracefully.

Loretta
Loretta
9 years ago

I participate in two types of informal types of social capital, and I honestly would hate to think of my life without it. Among my friends and neighbors, we have always helping each other with no expectations of reward, and we are always there for each other. I have been laid off this past year, which has enabled me to drive neighbors to chemo, emergency room visits, and simply taking care of neighbors pets. In the past, they helped me care for my Dad, cut my lawn, took care of my pets. There has never been any score-keeping or feeling… Read more »

Claire
Claire
9 years ago
Reply to  Loretta

A time bank? How interesting!! I just looked up “Time Bank NC” (my state), and found one in my area. However, there is a $20 individual and $30 family dues. Hmm…

Loretta
Loretta
9 years ago
Reply to  Claire

There are no dues at my time-bank because it has a grant to offset the expenses. Expenses are things like background checks, you don’t want a pedophile offering babysitting services! Other expenses might include the tracking software to track hours, some time-banks have a website to post offers and requests, some have a paper phone book listing offers… For me, I would belong even if I had to pay dues once a year, because any one of the many services I receive would be well worth it.

Kowala
Kowala
9 years ago

I have always been heavily vested in the social capitol idea. I have an excellent arrangement with one neighbor in particular. He grows a garden on my property thus weeds/waters the rest. I help with some of the watering costs by running my hose on the garden every so often. We share the garden yield. I agreed to build some extensive pickup racks so he could haul garbage instead of paying the increasing garbage service fees. Once I finished building the racks with parts he purchased he offered to allow us to fill his truck with our garbage too. Savings… Read more »

Gizmosdad
Gizmosdad
9 years ago
Reply to  Kowala

What a great idea! I would SOOO fix you a dinner if you cleaned the windows in my house – I just hate doing that chore.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago

For me, the risk of a social network is not the score keeping, but that people won’t leave me alone when I need to. Humans can be truly insufferable. So I practice… let’s call it “social minimalism.” You know, keep things basic to avoid clutter. Too many friends = too many obligations. In spite of my limited connections I’ve scored a nice bottle of booze, great speakers for my bedroom and a solid work table, all just this past week. I’ve given free use of my internet, a bit of dog sitting, and the awesome hauling power of my truck.… Read more »

Katy+@+The+Non-Consumer+Advocate
[email protected]+The+Non-Consumer+Advocate
9 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Okay, I just read that as “Guest speakers for my bedroom,” which just about made me do a spit take.

And I do have to say that scheduling bedroom “guest speakers” is way better than having a TV in there.

Katy

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago

Proof that dyslexia can be fun. Would it help to add that I’m jacking the speakers to a stereo amplifier? I don’t know what you’d make of that, but here’s a chance to let your imagination fly, I suppose.

Chris
Chris
9 years ago

Katie,

So did I.

Bareheadedwoman
Bareheadedwoman
9 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I suppose it would depend much on the guest speaker…I spent a moment wondering what kind before I realized I, too, read wrong 🙂 I’m glad you posted this…I tend to have trouble finding the balance too. I have lovely neighbors I exchange things with, but the ladies next door have a coffee club and open door policy for people and pets (they have germans & rotws, I have a timid minpin), and everyone “stoops” during nice weather…extroverts who do not EVER like to be alone. As an introvert, I find it difficult to find the balance between exchanging some… Read more »

Laura
Laura
9 years ago

I completely agree! My husband and I are introverts, and while we are trying to create better connections in our neighborhood, it can be difficult to find a balance. The neighbor lady who comes over literally 3 times a day (probably in response to us recently helping her out & because she’s lonely) even after I say, “I’m sorry, this isn’t a good day” is completely difficult for us to deal with. I realize this isn’t the topic of JD’s post, because it assumes that people are polite and respectful of boundaries, but it can certainly can be a difficult… Read more »

brooklynchick
brooklynchick
9 years ago

Social capital is especially important during emergencies! Irene didn’t hit my nabe very hard, but I had neighbors check in on me (and I checked in on an elderly neighbor) to offer food, batteries and just company. When you need it, you’re pretty grateful for that “money in the bank.”

Bareheadedwoman
Bareheadedwoman
9 years ago
Reply to  brooklynchick

Yo Brooklyn! Re Irene, yeah social capital pays off. We didn’t evac but a new neighbor from Vermont was considering taking her teen daughter home to her ex but decided to stay after finding out all the neighbors were staying and that we had all prepared…(being unfamiliar with the city, she was afraid of a superdome experience with the city shelter). Turns out her ex’s was flooded and not only would she have been stuck for several days if not weeks (in isolation with an unprepared ex from a nasty divorce) which she can ill-afford the missed work…she would have… Read more »

Jennifer+Gwennifer
Jennifer+Gwennifer
9 years ago

I was so glad to have this kind of neighborhood growing up. The people living in the houses across the street and kitty-corner from my parents have especially good relationships with my parents. They’ve been getting each others mail, feeding pets, etc for over 30 years. One winter, Family A was out of town during a snow storm, so my father snowblowed their driveway so they wouldn’t have to when they got back. Family A thought that Family B did it, and snuck a pie into their kitchen in thanks (we all have each others keys). Family B loved the… Read more »

Carla
Carla
9 years ago

Very interesting article because I never really consciously thought about “social capital” before until now. I know I have a lot built up because when I am able, I am very willing and often help other people out, but when it comes to getting help from others, I unconsciously and consciously feel that I don’t want to bother others and generally hire someone to help me out or tough it out (like I was taught adults should be able to do). I’ve always felt unless I’m elderly or severely disabled, I don’t have a right to bum off of other… Read more »

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
9 years ago

“social capital” seems like a web 2.0 era marketing term for what used to just be called “community”. It is great, though. We’ll often pick up the trash cans for our neighbors or vice versa, since the driveway is long and steep and hauling them up is a pain. Last winter a water pipe broke and the men from all the houses on our street banded together and fixed it in two days. Parts only cost a few hundred dollars, but paying a contractor to do it probably would have cost $10,000. I helped the neighbor move his play structure… Read more »

Dallas+saver
Dallas+saver
9 years ago

Congrats on the birth of your daughter!

krantcents
krantcents
9 years ago

The sense of community is the most important aspect of a neighborhood. I live in a townhouse community and very rarely borrow anything from my neighbors, however one or the other neighbor has watered my plants while we were on vacation.

KP
KP
9 years ago

There are two items not covered in your article about social capital. I work with two kinds of folks that make this difficult. Those who will always give, but think to accept help is a weakness. They use up any social capital that they accumulate, but creating a large debt. Also those who are afraid to say no when asked. In this type of exchange honesty is the only kind alternative. To say no, lets people know what to expect. I would rather have a request answered by no, than to expect the help that isn’t there.

Loretta
Loretta
9 years ago
Reply to  KP

This is where the time-bank concept is useful. It is always ok to say no to a request for any reason, and not feel guilty because you know that that person can just ask another person on the list.

And it is ok to always do for others and bank your hours. You can donate them to someone, or save them until you do have a need.

And it filters out tose who will only ask for help, but never give.

Tanya
Tanya
9 years ago

I had never thought to call this “social capital.” I have often thought of it as investing in others. Choose carefully the people in whom you invest your time, heart, talent and belongings, and you will have a full heart and satisfying relationships as well as people who’ll help you move and lend you their tools. Great post.

schmei
schmei
9 years ago

There can be a version of “keeping score” that works out well – at least, it did for us this summer. We moved from one end of the city to the other. It was a super hot summer weekend and I was 7 months pregnant, so we were a little worried about handling it. Lo and behold, folks came out of the woodwork to help us. Most of them were people we helped with their own moves years ago, but we’d completely forgot that we’d helped them! They kept the score, we were rewarded with an easy move. 🙂

Erin
Erin
9 years ago

My next-door neighbors are great; they’ve helped take care of my mail when I’ve been on vacation and they also took care of my dog a couple nights a week when I was in grad school. They’ve never asked for anything in return, even though I’d love to return the favor!

Bareheadedwoman
Bareheadedwoman
9 years ago
Reply to  Erin

just keep your eyes open to possibilities even if they don’t ask… If you know they love peaches, bring them some from a roadside stand the next time you pass one…or some such. If they mention going out of town, offer to care for their plants/pets/mail or something. Even if they have already made arrangements that time, the idea will have been planted that you are open to investing “social capital” and they may feel more comfortable going to you the next time. This strategy which works well with any of those you think may be suffering from “I hate… Read more »

Jeff
Jeff
9 years ago

Well, I’d like to think my social capital should be good. After all, I offer to help people. I’m not very handy, so I can’t help fix things. I pray that I can find more ways to help within my “forte.”

abby
abby
9 years ago

i hate social captial really i do. i always always always get stuck with the neighbors that are constantly asking for favors. i have very few favors i’d have to ask anyone, and when i do ask its my friends and family. i guess it is just me and i have to learn to say no, but instead i just hide from them when i’m overwhelmed. just once i wish i had neighbors that were friendly but not in your face. i live in a military town and as one of the few civilians in my neighborhood its hard to… Read more »

Patsy
Patsy
9 years ago

I love the idea of social capital. My husband is an American Indian, and in his Native Heritage, social capital is the normal way of life. We have been doing this since the beginning of our marriage 18 years ago and have been both the recipients and givers of so many material items and nonematerial times that I can’t even begin to state them. We also do this as much as possible in my husband’s family, but work to do this on a basis so as not to make them co-dependent on us, but inter-dependent and help them to be… Read more »

Sara+A.
Sara+A.
9 years ago

My experience with social capital is that no matter how much I give to the community, no one wants to do anything to give back.

So, screw my neighbors.

Bareheadedwoman
Bareheadedwoman
9 years ago
Reply to  Sara+A.

in which case I would ask myself what exactly it is that I am expecting to receive, and whether or not I am truly giving from the heart that which I wish to receive…

I give to my neighbors because I like to give, they give back to me for the same. The individual “gots” don’t really matter, it’s the “doing” that does.

Eileen
Eileen
9 years ago

Not to nix the ‘better than money’ idea, but social capital can also be income-generating: because we know our neighbors, they think of us first if they need a carpentry project done (my husband’s hobby) or have to get something notarized (mine). Not too long ago, I spent hours editing a neighbor’s thesis and it was right around the time of one of your “Why Income is So Important” posts, so it inspired me to generate a list of ways I could start diversifying my income within my local community. Now I am hyper-aware of these opportunities – both getting… Read more »

Moneyperk
Moneyperk
9 years ago

To be honest, I have never thought of social capital before. After reading this article, I definitely see it through out our neighborhood all the time.

During the summer (vacation season) is when the heart of our neighborhood highlight social capital. Really simple things like taking out the trash, watering flowers, and getting the mail for the families that are away on vacation.

It is a very good thing when people realize; what comes around goes around. I think when you give your fair share of duties to others, you will get the same in return.

chris
chris
9 years ago

This whole philosophy is illustrated very well in the movie You Can’t Take it With You (Jimmy Stewart, Lionel Barrymore, etc. – 1930s). Everyone should watch this movie. While I was teaching, I used to show it every year to my high school students

Noxius
Noxius
9 years ago

“John” has a burn pile in Portland? He must shred it for mulch. No burning in Portland since Frank Ivancie.

Kris+at+GRS
Kris+at+GRS
9 years ago
Reply to  Noxius

We live very near Portland, but actually in a different county altogther. I’ve never actually seen the burn pile burn, however.

Lisa
Lisa
9 years ago

I always called social capital “mutual mooching”! You just have to be careful to seek out the right neighbors and quite frankly, you have to be the right neighbors. I love it when I am comfortable enough to freely ask a neighbor for something and helping out where I can always makes me feel good.

Also, I have never been afraid to meet new neighbors because they/or I may be moving soon. Oh….to think of the wonderful friendships I’d have missed out on!

imelda
imelda
9 years ago

That is a lovely story, JD, and that’s the kind of community I dream of living in (and helping to create!) some day.

But I found this quite judgmental:

“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.”

Ouch. Some of us are just shy.

Dana
Dana
9 years ago
Reply to  imelda

We’re shy. Or we’re socially awkward. Or we’re jerk magnets and always seem to attract the weird-in-a-bad-way people into our lives. Or our family is abusive. Or we didn’t get to grow up near our family because we were a military brat until we graduated high school and left home, so never got a chance to get that social “in” in our family’s small town. There are all kinds of reasons someone might not be plugged in to the social capital. Not all of them amount to personal failures. Even where we are responsible for at least part of the… Read more »

Beth
Beth
9 years ago
Reply to  Dana

I agree! Thank you both for pointing this out. My social capital has dipped over the years because people move away, get married, have kids, etc. When you’re single, it’s very easy to get left behind when couples socialize with other couples, moms make play dates, etc.

There are many reasons people can feel isolated or disconnected. Telling them to “get out there and meet more people!” is good advice, but the people who are giving it usually don’t understand how difficult it is.

bkwrm
bkwrm
9 years ago
Reply to  Dana

Yeah. My family and I are introverted homebodies. We are also one of the few families on our block that has kids still at home and are not retirees. We get offers of “help” but it feels more like a nudge to meet their lawn-care standards than actual altruism. For example, one winter day when my husband was shoveling the walk, he noticed that the neighbor’s walk wasn’t shoveled. He thought that probably meant that the husband was not home, so he shoveled their walk as well. They immediately gave us an old answering machine they weren’t using as ‘payment.’… Read more »

Beth
Beth
9 years ago
Reply to  bkwrm

Maybe that’s all they felt they had to offer, but they still wanted to do something for you? I grew up in a neighbourhood very similar to the ones your kids are growing up in now — lots of retirees! They were always willing to lend a hand in an emergency and always eager to help with our fundraising efforts and school projects. Many of them didn’t have their grand children near by, and it wasn’t until much later that I realized how much they enjoyed watching my siblings and I grow up and being a part of our lives.… Read more »

Kate
Kate
9 years ago
Reply to  bkwrm

Wow, some people are easily offended over nothing.

Joan
Joan
9 years ago
Reply to  imelda

Thanks so much to Imelda and everyone else who brought this up. Sometimes, by being the person who IS there to help everyone else, I think people have come to see me as someone who doesn’t need help. People “assumed” that everyone else would come help us move – “because you always take care of that stuff for everyone else.” “Because you have tons of friends.” Etc. Even when I ask for help directly, I find that if you’re a generally self-reliant person who mostly spends their time helping others, you don’t really get a lot of people willing to… Read more »

Bareheadedwoman
Bareheadedwoman
9 years ago
Reply to  imelda

“…they’ve burned through all of their social capital.” I think this sentence caused a knee-jerk based perhaps on semantics and that, editorially, there might have been a clearer way to explain. I don’t think it is so much that someone has “burned through” their social capital like a gambler on slot machines, as much as they either have not “invested enough” or “generated enough” social capital–as commented in other replies. The dynamic nature of social capital is such that it seems that to describe it as a hard investment that can be wasted is an inaccurate metaphor. I suppose the… Read more »

Ben
Ben
9 years ago

I had never heard the idea phrased as social capital, but this makes complete sense. My roommate and I just moved to a duplex. Neither of us have trucks, but my parents do have a truck, but no trailer. Well one of my college/hunting/fishing buddies Curtis said we could use his trailer. Well not only do we use his trailer for the move, he pulls the trailer, and helped us move the furniture. However I would like to say this is not “free” work we help each other out. His grandfather owns a farm where he and his fiance will… Read more »

SHirley
SHirley
9 years ago

I am single and HATE yardwork but needed a whole bunch of things done in my yard. I email invited 10 people(knowing not all would want to come) and asked them to come for 3 hours on a Saturday morning for a gardening party. We started at 9, and ended on the dot of 12,I gave them a great lunch and they were all on their way home by 1:00. Many people ARE willing to help but cannot commit to an entire day. EVERY gardening chore and more was done from my list that day and besides, we ALL had… Read more »

Bella
Bella
9 years ago

This is exactly how our neighborhood works. I love living there. When my sister and her husband look down on us for living in the ‘soulless suburbs’ I have to chuckle to myself. We are pretty lucky – but we have all (as a neighborhood) put quite a bit of effort into making our street into a neighborhood. We hold regular block parties where everyone is invited – some people always come, setup and clean up, some people rarely show up, but they don’t help. Realistically it’s all about what you want to get out of it. Everyone knows us,… Read more »

Amber
Amber
9 years ago

My dog is the only way I have been able to meet my neighbors, and for that he is a huge blessing and has brought me new friends in a new place.

I think this concept also applies just as easily at work though it is targeted at home chores. Sometimes I help out my coworkers do something not related to my job. Sometime I will need their help on something.

Bareheadedwoman
Bareheadedwoman
9 years ago

The thing about social capital is that you have to know what to invest with whom to capitalize on your return. Talking about shy and/or introverted people…being an introvert, I have particular talent for networking with them. There are several on my block who will come out to my little row house garden and read because they miss the green in this concrete jungle of ours and like the low-key social interaction. Some need a quiet cool place to pass the summer, not having AC or outdoor spaces of their own. Sometimes all we do is smile at each other… Read more »

Laura
Laura
9 years ago

This is probably the best comment. I am horribly shy, social anxiety. I would love to help. I don’t want anything in return. It doesn’t bother me at all to do any of this stuff. I really just don’t know how. I keep trying to get up the courage to do something but it is difficult. I’m sure my neighbors (on the one side) who are quite friendly and outgoing think who knows what. I feel bad. I want to be social but I just panic when I see someone coming and hide. I do hate myself for it. It’s… Read more »

Kevin@OutOfYourRut
9 years ago

J.D. I think you’re hitting on something that has greater financial implications than we commonly think. First, exchanging with our neighbors and the local community has been for 1000s of years the basis of the economy (and nearly everything else). But on a more practical level, strong social capital means we probably need to spend less money. For example, how often do we pay a professional to fix something that’s broken because we don’t know anyone in our social circle who can do such things. How often to we go “out on the town” because we have no one to… Read more »

reeder
reeder
9 years ago

Social capital vs mutual mooching vs simply giving are interestingly different concepts and intentions.

Also, it is great that you’re paying a neighbor to help with some yard work. Doubly so since they’re job hunting and a bit of extra cash really helps.

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