The broader your circle of friends, the bigger your family, the better you know your neighbors, and the more involved you are in your community, the more social capital you have. (And the more social capital you contribute to others — it’s a reciprocal thing!) --Get Rich Slowly
I've been thinking about networking, social capital, and friendship lately for four reasons:
1. I'm looking for work (which everyone tells you is all about "who you know")
2. I recently attended a social function for a group where I only knew three people
3. I volunteer with a lot of community groups
4. We had a "friend" over for lunch yesterday whom we hadn't seen in 10 years who then offered to do us a favor
The "Get Rich Slowly" blog just had an article about Social Capital which talked about the gains we get from being involved with people--doing them favors, working for the community, etc. Apparently, as long as we are not doing it for a reward, we should take comfort from the fact that doing things for people will reward us. That seems a bit odd. All of these people writing articles on Social Capital are happy to tell us that we get something for doing things for others but we are all supposed to pretend like we don't know that. If we do something for others with the idea that someday we will gain something too, then that's bad.
I agree that going into it all "quid pro quo" or mercenary is not a good thing. It isn't attractive to help someone with the expectation that you will be rewarded. However, I think it is a little disingenuous for writers to encourage us to increase our social capital but pretend that there is nothing in it for us. We gain from helping others; this is a good thing!
Some of my volunteer activities I chose specifically because I thought that I would gain both valuable experience and contacts which might eventually help me find a job I liked. Should I be considered a bad person because I hope to gain from my work? I'm still giving to my community. The fact that I have a few items to put in a portfolio and have met a lot of people is bonus. I'm also having fun and helping others.
The social gathering last week was enjoyable but I also partly went in the hopes of meeting new people and maybe making connections both for my community organizations (I'm their publicity person so I spread the word about the groups I volunteer with, wherever I go--I got three people at that party so interested in my community groups that I think they will stop by) and for myself (one person asked for my resume).
I don't know that I have ever benefited from networking and I am certainly having a horrible time finding a job (I recently found out that the position I interviewed for that I was so excited about--they hired someone else). However, I figure it can't hurt to keep trying to meet people, let people know I'm unemployed, and keep working hard for various groups without pay to see if one of those leads to a paying position.
One side benefit is that I have many more friends--and the articles on social capital are right that there are benefits to friends. My husband and I have a number of personal projects we are working on and some of our friends have been helping out lately. They've volunteered to do things for us. Even the old friend we hadn't seen in years whom we got into contact with again recently, upon hearing about what we were up to, offered to get some stuff for us to help. Another friend has been bringing us gifts when he visits, including some dvds and some fun gadgets--because he thought of us when he was buying it for himself. It's been a wonderful kindness which I really appreciate, and especially useful when we are both unemployed. Another friend insisted on buying both lunch and dinner when we were out together for the day, saving us the expense we had expected to have to pay for ourselves.
Ten years ago I would have said that I knew many, many people but that I couldn't point to very many friends. I had "friends" but they were mostly long-distance friends whom I mostly knew through email and maybe saw at an event once a year, at most. I have a few "friends" I've never actually met but I correspond with on the internet. I'm glad to say that my work in the local groups and my expanding social circle means that I have more local friends, people I actually see in person, but I wonder how many of them see me as a friend rather than acquaintance. That's the hard part to judge.
What I do know is that I'm glad to have a wider social circle, thankful for the help my social circle has given me, happy to be gaining contacts and experience with my volunteer work, and thrilled to be helping my community at the same time. Social Capital is pretty cool and there is nothing wrong with recognizing that--and even working to promote it.