In places throughout our society, people are wrestling with a challenge that feels insurmountable: People just don’t care, they aren’t showing up, or they’re not doing what we need them to, what they’re supposed to do, or even what they want to do.
Causes of Disengagement
First obvious in schools, in the 1970s this was originally identified as a dropout problem. After struggling through early community action agencies, Rock the Vote type projects, and national service programs, in 1999 a sociologist named Robert Putnam put a face to the problem when he published Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.
Putnam successfully diagnosed the problem with society’s social capital, which is a metaphor for the interactive networks people keep with other people who live and work around each other. Since we’re constantly exchanging these visible and invisible gestures in conscious and unconscious ways, social capital is what allows our society to actually work.
What Disengagement Causes
Wonder why it feels like our society doesn’t actually work? According to Putnam, its because social capital isn’t being circulated like it used to be. Given the emergence of anarchistic capitalism and hyper-libertarianism, I believe we’re reaching a fever pitch and revealing the real problem, which I am calling the Crisis of Disengagement.
Psychologists talk about this as a phenomenon that needs addressed through intrinsic-extrinsic motivation theory and goal theory, and the need to investigate the gaps between people, as well as what possible ways to maintain or stimulate peoples’ motivations to exchange social capital. They believe environments can be intentionally maintained to enhances the self-concept, social efficacy, and a sense of volition as well as self-determination to circumvent the demise of social capital. And all that’s fascinating to me, and I’m going to continue studying it to learn more.
However, I think we need an accessible approach to the Crisis of Disengagement for everyone, not just academics. So let me name and define what I think we’re talking about here:
- Engagement is any sustained connection anyone has to anything in the world around them and within themselves.
- Disengagement is the absence of sustainability in our connections.
That said, the Crisis of Engagement is a solvable problem, much like poverty and war. As Nelson Mandela said,
“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”
Disengagement is a solvable problem.
My work is about helping YOU solve the Crisis of Engagement. Check out the rest of the Personal Engagement Tip Sheets to learn more!
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Adam Fletcher is available to train, coach, speak, and write about Personal Engagement across the US and Canada. Contact him to learn about the possibilities!