“We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.”

William James

FIERCELY AWARE: The Brutal Facts: 1.1.6

Challenges in Our Communities

There are an incalculable number of forces shaping how we engage as neighbors and citizens.   Three challenges are of particular concern if we seek to catalyze our strengths and join them with others to face the demands of our world. The documented decline in our social capital and two additional factors related to our digitally connected world top the list.

      1. In a world overrun with digital connectivity and communication, our human connections to one another are weakening.

In the last two decades our connections to others’ “social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them” – in effect our social capital – has eroded steadily and sometimes dramatically according to Robert Putnam in his groundbreaking book, Bowling Alone.   While social capital can be deleterious in some instances, Putnam’s research indicates that strong connections make collective problems easier to resolve, facilitates business transactions, widens our awareness of our mutual connectivity, speeds the flow of information and improves our health and happiness through human contact.


      1. The image conscious demands of an online life are making us much more self-focused.

Our online lives have changed the way we work, share resources, communicate, travel, date, shop, watch programming and engage in politics. Within these developments, there is an enormous positive and negative impact.  Of concern is the tremendous number of outlets such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, ready-made for self-focused and even self-promotional communications.  Need I say more than “selfies?”  While there are a number of reasons for this, research reported in The Narcissism Epidemic involving 37,000 college students, indicates that narcissistic personality traits rose just as fast as obesity from the 1980s to the present.


      1. It is easier to vilify others if we limit our engagement to groups that think as we do.

The exploding number of media and communication outlets mean that we can elect to engage with only those individuals or groups with whom we share very similar, sometimes very narrowly defined, ideas and beliefs.  While there is obvious benefit to niche communities (consider families with young children with special needs), the conversations therein can also help create very insular thinking.


In his latest book, Adam Kahane discusses a potential by-product of this type of insular conversation.  In Collaborating with the Enemy, Kahane coined the term “enemyfying,” a syndrome in which we “see people with different interests as people who are trying to actively hurt us.” As a result, those with different ideas are seen not just as opponents to be defeated, but as enemies to be destroyed.



There are inchoate examples of individuals and teams accessing their character strengths and virtues and tapping into the best in human potential. Examples are emerging in organizations, neighborhoods and schools. (See Mathew A. White and A Simon Murray’s Evidenced-Based Approaches to Positive Education for inspiring school examples)  In doing so, they are improving engagement, performance, well-being, and connectedness in their workplaces, schools and communities.  Further, by accessing the best of human nature, they are making a positive contribution to the world.  One that will enable humanity to keep stride with the rapid pace of innovation.   (see how in Part 2!)

To borrow and embellish the frequently quoted maxim of author William Gibson, “The (more positive) future is already here.  It is just not evenly distributed.”  Read about the science behind scaling a more positive future here.