Active Citizens Developing Social Wealth and Building Society

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An active citizen earns social capital and has social currency to spend to accomplish a goal. Influencing government decisions (laws or policies) can be done either by; proving the moral rightness of an action, by economic influence or by social influence. Economic influence being based on money and the power associated with large sums of money and backroom deals. Social influence being based on the power associated with large numbers of people and public action. Rich people accumulate their wealth by working hard to earn it (or are born with it). In the same way, people that want to be rich in social capital need to work hard at earning it.

Active citizen is connected to concepts of solidarity, civic responsibility, social capital, role model theory, social identity theory and sometime righteous anger..

Economic wealth builds buildings. Social wealth builds society.

The health of society does not come just from the number of people and the physical infrastructure of the city it comes mainly from the relationships of the people in the society and willingness to cooperate. Social capital is the force that builds the very fabric of society. High social wealth creates a positive social mood based on justice, respect, trust and optimism.

Over the last century Western society has become far wealthier than ever before in history but we have not attained the levels of happiness and well-being we would expect from the level of prosperity. One reason for the lack of happiness in the midst of prosperity is our prioritization of materialism and economic wealth over social wealth. To be more precise, a very high focus on economic wealth and almost ignore social wealth.

Money is easy to earn and measure. Money, buys the necessities, and luxuries, of life and freedom to act in life but money is cold, rational and impersonal. While money is neutral, neither good nor bad but the desire for money and how it is used can be good or bad. Problems arise when money turns into power and coercion, when the economically strong inflict their will on the economically weak.

Unfortunately, while we have a concept of money and economic wealth, we have no word for the idea of a social currency, social capital and social wealth. Ideas disappear when words lose their meaning. A big loss to humanity was the original meaning of the word WEALTH.

In the Old English the word WEALTH meant a "condition of well-being".
  • weal = well-being, prosperity, or happiness
  • th = being the condition of

Today wealth has to do solely with economic wealth, the acquisition of resources.
  • the state of being rich; material prosperity.
  • an abundance of valuable possessions or money.
  • the value of all the property, possessions, and money that someone or something has

Economic wealth puts us into a socio-economic class, low, middle or upper, and gives us status in society. Social status gives prestige, esteem and honor, which are concepts founded on respect, which is showing deferential regard or admiration for abilities, qualities or achievements. We might admire a person for their success in accumulating money but we might not admire them for their nature, what they do and how they act with their money. A person with lots of money might be poor in social wealth, where they are envied for what they have but not liked or respected for who they are.

Anger is an emotion related to social unfairness. We have the concepts of ‘giver’ and ‘taker’. A giver is a person that gives more than he receives. Takers try to take advantage of givers, but it is for only a short-term benefit as takers usually get ostracized from the group of givers. Righteous anger is about reacting to and rectifying unfairness and injustice.

We feel sympathy and compassion towards good people when they suffer a loss or failure but we feel schadenfreude (German word for finding pleasure in the misfortunes of others) towards those that we see as bad people. The higher the status and the lower the likability of the person we do not like the more satisfying the schadenfreude.

The ability to influence

A just society is a fair society based on equal rights and rule of law. Society is not fair when the rich class can buy influence. We look down on the lobbyists that manipulate the political decision making process so that those with power can receive favorable government decisions.

Definition influence:
  • the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others
  • the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself

Government is not a benevolent or fair mother that does what is in the best interest of the people but what is in the best interest of the politicians in power and the influential constituents that influence them. The decision making process is a constant competition between interests. To compete and have a chance of winning you need to be in the game and know how to play the game.

While money is a powerful form of influence it is not the only form of influence in the government decision-making process, the civic space. The common people, if organized, have a lot of ability to influence decision making in the interests of the common good.

Social wealth, an accumulation of social capital created by active citizens can be more powerful than money in the influence process. Social capital is either a carrot of stick that can be used to affect the social esteem that a politician has or affect the probability of re-election.

Influence by money disappears as soon as the money is gone but the power of influence by social capital is that it gets recorded in history books.

Social Capital

Money is the currency of the 'buying economy'. Money feeds the body. Money is rational and money can buy action but money can’t buy friends or passion. Our focus on money and material things is the root of our materialistic culture. Money corrupts people and can induce them to do what they know is wrong. Money can’t buy happiness because things do not make us happy.

Social currency (no word for it) is the currency of the “giving economy”. Social currency feeds the soul. Social currency is the 'trade-able' aspect of social capital, which is irrational, emotional and it inspires people to do things that money can’t buy. Social capital powers passion. People, and our interactions with them, make us happy.

Social capital is the connectedness we have in our social groups and society. The quantity and quality of connections determines the amount of social capital we have. The quality of the connections depends on the level of trust and reciprocity between the two people. Put in another way, how many people like you and what are they willing to do for you. Individuals can posses social capital and so can groups. In the business space the concept is known as ‘networking’.

Social capital is the dotted lines that define our relationships with people.
The more dotted lines and the stronger the lines, the more social capital we have.

The social capital is intangible and unquantifiable. We can’t see it in a bank statement or in the size of a house or in the number of people a person employs but social capital greatly affects the ability to get something done. Social wealth, the accumulation of social capital, is the level of respect, esteem and honor that a person has in society.

Social capital is powered in part by the concept of reciprocity. Golden Rule, found inmost religions, is an ethic of reciprocity that tells us to act towards others in the same way that we want them to act towards us. If we want to be treated fairly then we need to treat others fairly. If we do good things for others, then others will do good things for us. If we are isolated and do not do anything for others then who will do something for us?

Dalai Lama: "Every religion emphasizes human improvement, love, respect for others, sharing other people's suffering. On these lines every religion had more or less the same viewpoint and the same goal."

The principle of reciprocity, or reciprocity effect, is the concept that when someone does something for me I will feel inspired or obliged, to do something in return in order to pay off a ‘debt’.

Unlike Newton’s Third Law of Motion, in physics, which states that, “When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body.” Studies have shown that most people pay back more than they received. The extra payment is a show of appreciation or like a reward for good behavior in the social setting. We might give more because we do not want to be embarrassed by not giving enough and being viewed as selfish takers.

From a business perspective, social capital is a concept similar to brand equity in business. A brand is an identity, a promise and trust. People do no just buy a brand, they also define themselves by the brands that they buy. Brand equity is a relationship, between the product and consumer, built on a promise and the fulfillment of the promise. High brand equity is a favorable relationship based on satisfactorily fulfilling the promise made. Positive brand equity influences purchase decisions and develops loyalty.

If we understand the value of social capital then we should also understand the need to work proactively to develop social capital.

Active citizen - a citizen with purpose

We define our self-identity and self-esteem through the roles we play. We can’t do everything and we choose to do what is important to us. Role Model Theory explains that we are the roles that we choose to play such as career, spouse, friend, active or apathetic citizen.

We are all very familiar with the concept of 'working'. We go to work for a company, we give about 40 hours of labor per week, we produce value and we get paid for the value we create. What we are paid is a fraction of the value we produce. We then buy the goods and services we need for living life. We accumulate excess money as a reserve and the bigger the reserve of money the greater our wealth. Earning social capital also requires work. Being an active citizen is the work we do to develop social capital.

As citizens of a society we have both rights and responsibilities. While rights might be formalized and written down as part of the constitution, responsibilities are more informal and not written down. We demand that our rights be respected but we quite often forget our responsibilities.

We build social capital through our social involvement. An active citizen is a person that takes an active interest and participates in various aspects of the community and social sector in order to fulfill social responsibilities and actively contribute to the betterment of society. Participation can be in volunteering to help children’s sports leagues, charities, professional organizations, human rights groups and the political space.

To help us play the roles we choose we seek role models to learn from and emulate. Role models are people we respect because they are very good at what they do and they inspire us to be like them. Role models are in essence leaders, either in action or thought. They lead, influence or inspire, others to do something not only by promoting ideas but by actively and genuinely living by those ideas.

If we can work 40 hours per week to earn a living,
should we work at least 4 hours per week to build society?

Active citizens together build society

Contributing to a cause greater than us gives most people purpose in life. My thought on the meaning of life is “The purpose of life is to have a meaningful life.” Conversely we have meaning in life when we have a purpose. Convoluted yes, but that is life.

Birds of a feather flock together. We are social beings and we have an inherent need to belong to something. Social Identity Theory states that we define ourselves by the groups that we join. We choose to join groups that share our values and interests. Groups empower us. We contribute to the social status and esteem of the group and we also share in it. The higher the status of the group we belong to the higher our status as a result of our membership in the group.

Social capital is related to the concept of solidarity, which is unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group. We join together with others that share our cause. Our success in influencing decisions in the favor of the common good depend on our solidarity and cooperation. Responsible citizens working together to solve local problems prove the viability of subsidiarity and counters the natural tendency for centralization of government. If you do not act on behalf of your interests then you will enjoy what others decide for you.

As active but ordinary citizens of the lower or middle class we can’t accomplish much on our own because we have a low power to influence. We might have the rare occasion to initiate action through the courts to find justice for a crime but quite often injustices are not against the law or government policy favoring one group might create an injustice against another group. We must find others that share our vision to show that the issue affects a large group of people and that a large group of people is willing to cooperate in order to fix the problem.
Job security is one of the top priorities of a politician. Winning the next election is a constant concern that affects every decision. The ability to influence an election outcome is a powerful tool for influence. 100 active citizens might be able to outmaneuver and “out-influence” a wealthy special interest trying to influence behind closed doors by putting an issue into the public spotlight and creating influence in a public forum.

We feel proud and happy when we succeed but we also feel good even when we are trying. The very act of trying to do something in the name of a good cause is important. There is also a bit of selfishness in selflessness. We all know that “doing good” makes us feel good. We get an emotional reward when we help people. Meaningful activities, which include helping others, bring more purpose and happiness than do pleasure-seeking behaviors. Altruism also contributes to a healthier and longer life. We are programmed for this compassion based on empathy based on mirror neurons. (
The Science of Good Deeds)

It is quite irrational for anyone to be an apathetic citizen. Being apathetic is a sign of pessimism, depression, powerlessness and a culture of learned helplessness. Being an apathetic citizen is like being an apathetic homeowner that does no maintenance on their home and the home starts to fall apart.

To summarize:
  • The roles we choose give us purpose
  • The groups we join define our identity
  • The causes we fight for give us meaning
  • Successful causes create healthy communities

What are we if we are not active in our communities?

Željko Zidarić