01 November 2006

Creatures of the past

[No, this is not about pre-historic animals.]

In every community there exist connections between people. Between one individual and another; between groups of individuals; and between one individual and the community as a whole. These connections constitute a community’s social capital. This social capital, like its culture and identity, is something people simply have. It’s a leftover from their long dwelling together as a group… a sort of continuity with their past.

The nature of some of these connections gets modified over the years; but, all in all, they remain, collectively as social capital, an important component of the community and its prosperity. In fact, the potential for this social capital actually spreads beyond the community – i.e. the immediate group of people who constitute the community – and influences others outside it. Depending on their social capital, some communities welcome others, embracing new cultures and new thinking. Some exude negative vibes and actually repel outsiders.

Racism, genocide, caste-based behaviour and communal feelings are examples of such negative social capital. Or, correctly, negative externalisation of such social capital. Sometimes it’s difficult to separate one from the other. Internally, the social capital of a community can act as a cohesive or binding force, enhancing the functioning of the community; but externally, it can treat people with suspicion, hostility and hatred… excluding others as outsiders. Some of these negative feelings have a history behind them, embedded as they have been in the minds of people for generations, and are difficult to change or erase.

Hopefully, with globalisation, the social capital of communities and countries will improve, creating a better place to live for all of us. But, then again, who knows? We are, after all, creatures of the past.

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