What Does it Mean to be Better Together?

I must admit that part of the reason why I selected the aforementioned book by Robert Putnam as part of my review, is largely due to the title sounding more like a campaign slogan in this current political climate than a book about community togetherness.  Nonetheless, after reading each of the chapters, I found myself more intrigued with how despite the content varying from chapter to chapter, the overall message was pretty consistent throughout the book…”the framework for building relationships is built one by one”. 

Ironically, even though the book title seemed inviting like a 2020 campaign slogan, filled with interesting reads and hands across America like content, the esthetics of the book created a challenging barrier as it pertains to building a desire to even read the book….more less open it. I know it’s cliché to say don’t judge a book by its cover; however, the exterior of the book was so bland in nature, that I automatically assumed that I would be bored out of my mind trying to even engage in the content. I mean can you imagine having to do a book review, on a book that looks like it has no character; the exterior brandishing sandstone colors and not even the title is present to remind you that you’ve made a wise decision in your selection. That’s precisely how I felt immediately after I picked this book up from the library, no glee or excitement to be had, only the acknowledgement that there was work to do, and I had to do it by any means necessary. 

“Better Together: Restoring the American Community” by Robert Putnam& Lewis Fieldstein”

Early on into the reading, I almost felt like the girl who goes on a date with the nice guy even though she’s not physically attracted to him.  You may not have been swept off your feet from his appearance, but after getting to know him a little bit more through conversation, you realize that he’s a decent person, and you somehow feel slightly bad about your initial misgivings. In the same manner, this book made me realize that there is much to be seen and discovered behind the cover of a not so eye-pleasing book. 

Throughout the course of this book, Putnam utilizes several homegrown and localized success stories that embody the premise of social capital. Social capital can be understood as a metaphor derived from other types of capital. Unlike physical capital referring to objects, social capital refers to “connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trust-worthiness that arise from them” (Putnam, 2000, p. 19). Putnam argues that social capital is closely related to “civic virtue”, enabling people to trust, collaborate, socialize, establish communities and live together in harmony. There are two ingredients needed for social capital: repeated social contact and common goals (Ihlen, O., Fredriksson, M. 2018, p. 197).  

With a strong reliance on the foundation of social capital, we are able to dive into each of the examples that Putnam establishes as a model on how organizations stemming from churches to school systems, are able to build coordinated actions that will either strengthen their current communities or rebrand them as greater than before. What these and the other undertakings described in this book have in common is that they all involve making connections among people, establishing bonds of trust and understandings, building community. In other words, they all involve creating social capital: developing networks of relationships that weave individuals into groups and communities (Putnam, R., Feldstein, L., Cohen, D. 2003, p. 1). For Putnam, social capital is mutually enforcing. “Effective collaborative institutions require interpersonal skills and trust, but those skills and that trust are also inculcated and reinforced by organized collaboration” (Putnam, Leonardi, & Nanetti, 1993, P. 180).  

Read the remainder of the article here

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This book can be found and purchased on Amazon.

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