Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Spaces Between Us

I recently came across a wonderful article at one of my favourite sites, Brain Pickings. It provides an excerpt from David Goslings' book, Science and the Indian Tradition: When Einstein Met Tagore. Most of us know who Einstein is, but if you're like me, you were probably unaware that Tagore was an Indian philosopher and poet, as well as, the first non-European to win the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature. In 1930 Einstein invited the then 69 year old Tagore to his home in Berlin. Gosling calls the conversation between the two great thinkers, "a masterful meditation on the most fundamental questions of human existence".

At one point Tagore is describing how he perceives humanity and the universe as inextricably linked. He compares humanity to matter. Matter is made of tiny particles that have gaps between them, although it appears to be solid. Humanity is made up of individuals, but we are inextricably linked by relationships. Using Tagore's model it stands to reason then, that the quality of the relationships, the energy that unites us, makes us solid, gives us form by teaching us about love, values, morals, and principles of truth, compassion, and kindness, determines how we exist.

While contemplating the magic of this analogy I stumbled upon some research about social capital. Social capital was first described in 1913 like this:

"I do not refer to real estate, or to personal property or to cold cash, but rather to that in life which tends to make these tangible substances count for most in the daily lives of people, namely, goodwill, fellowship, mutual sympathy and social intercourse among a group of individuals and families who make up a social unit… If he may come into contact with his neighbor, and they with other neighbors, there will be an accumulation of social capital, which may immediately satisfy his social needs and which may bear a social potentiality sufficient to the substantial improvement of living conditions in the whole community. The community as a whole will benefit by the cooperation of all its parts, while the individual will find in his associations the advantages of the help, the sympathy, and the fellowship of his neighbors (pp. 130-131)."

Interestingly, research suggests that neighbourhood social capital helps to generate more social capital between individuals and this in turn has a protective effects against depression. Instead of a vicious circle we have a virtuous cycle. I think that social capital is the gap that makes us appear solid, whole, united. I like to think that dakbands help to generate that social capital by reminding us that we are all part of the same Universe, inextricably linked - and how we treat each other matters (pun intended).


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