Wednesday night I drove to Newton, about 30 minutes away, to meet Marci, WenDee and Sue for dinner. It was an invigorating evening during which we discussed the need to build social capital between diverse groups of people.
I met Sue at Kansas Dialogue this year, and knew she was someone I wanted to get to know better. So, I emailed asking if she wanted to have dinner one night. She suggested Marci and WenDee might want to join us and – it’s a miracle – but the first date we tried was tonight and everyone was available. Getting four busy people together usually takes far more attempts.
I have known Marci (on the left) for a few years, but have never had the opportunity to connect with her as much as I’d like. She is the director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation, which operates a number of programs devoted to preserving rural culture. She has created her own job, and is making a living being her – something to which I aspire. It’s really astonishing what she has been able to accomplish – all as a one person staff until WenDee (on the right) came on board two years ago.
You may recognize Marci from the blog entry when her book, The Kansas Guidebook, was published. I’m sorry to say, if you didn’t buy a copy before, it’s now officially out of print. And while I might share mine with you, I won’t give it up. If you hunt around, you might find one still on the shelves somewhere, but I can’t tell you where.*
I met WenDee at Kansas Dialogue a couple of years ago in Colby. She was already a blog reader, which was a fun discovery. WenDee is one of those people who is always fun and upbeat. How can you not love that in a person? She used to live in Garden City, which is a very diverse community in Kansas. Here in the central part of the state, near Hutchinson, it’s much less diverse.
Diversity was an ongoing topic. We were referencing some books, including “Bowling Alone” by Dr. Robert Putnam. That remains the best book on the subject as far as I know. I’m so glad I got to see him speak a couple of years ago. It’s time for me to reread that book, I think.
I realized during our conversation that all of the time I’ve spent in Kansas I’ve been trying to build social capital. It has been a struggle for me. Marci and WenDee were shocked when I said I feel isolated a lot.
Over the years, I’ve tried various things to make those connections and build that social web. I’ve learned a couple of things. One is that to have an “agenda” is the antithesis of building social capital. That’s just a meeting, then, where you’re likely to go away with a to-do list. Two is that – so far – I’ve not found a way to build social capital in any sort of “institutional” way. The only way I’ve been able to do it is through personal interaction – often very personal.
It’s an interesting topic. I’m sure I’ll be thinking more about it in the coming days and weeks.
*EDIT: Jami tells me the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum gift shop has seven copies of the Kansas Guidebook on their shelves. (Isn’t technology grand!?!?!)
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