Social Movements Need Strong and Weak Ties

(Note:  This was published first as a feature on Shareable.)

Recently, I asked an American woman whether she’d moved to Paris in 1952 because she’d fallen in love with a Frenchman. Without missing a beat, she said, “It’s a little more complicated than that.

The same could be said of the conclusion in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Small Change,” a piece in which he questions the value of social media-based activism:

…[It is] simply a form of organizing which favors the weak-tie connections that give us access to information over the strong-tie connections that help us persevere in the face of danger.

It’s a little more complicated than that. Life isn’t lived in the “either/or” extremes.  Today’s social campaigns are not waged on the Internet or off. It’s all of a piece–a “both/and” phenomenon. Modern activists are no different from TV producers, merchants, educators, scientists, sufferers or patients. Social media is but one of the ways they connect. Continue Reading »

Sustainability Through a Social Lens

“Consequential strangers” comprise the relationship piece of sustainability, which Wikipedia defines broadly as, “the potential for long-term maintenance of well being.”

Increasingly and throughout the world, we have begun to coalesce around the notion that we have to make some big changes.  Sustainability is driving us to rethink the way we use our resources, build our communities, and run our businesses. It is making us question our habits of consumption and connection, forcing us, gradually or abruptly, to face three powerful new social realities:

  • I can’t do it alone or just with my loved ones.
  • I can’t act as if I am the only one who counts.
  • I have to extend my social reach beyond what is familiar and comfortable.

Continue Reading »

CS Help Shape Our Extended Selves

In 1964, close to a thousand young Americans from cushy middle- and upper-class homes put themselves in harm’s way to participate in Freedom Summer which many historians cite as the beginning of what we now think of as “the Sixties.”   To withstand the dangers and to hold on to a new vision of America, each volunteer had to summon his “extended self”–the part of our identity that is tied to another person or social group.  As I explain in “We Become Who We’re With” in Chapter 3:

Our extended selves are continually affected by consequential strangers.  In the course of any given day, each encounter leaves us with impressions–images and ideas that in turn color our perception and influence our behavior.  We then bring that newly informed self into our next encounter, where we exchange more impressions.

The volunteers’ sense of self was forever changed as a result of their participation in Freedom Summer, and many other paradigm shifts in history have been driven by the same dynamics.  As sociologist Doug McAdam told me, “a movement can’t spread without the influence of weak, bridging ties.”  Translation:  Consequential strangers can take us beyond our comfort zone.

For a more current example, consider the NFL players’ participation in Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which began on October 1.  The macho men of the gridiron deck themselves out in–what?  Hot pink.  Talk about a paradigm shift.  But there’s a reason they can go beyond their individual selves.  Read why in my Psychology Today blog, “Will Pink Cleats Help NFL Players Win the Game?