By Barbara Davidson
You can’t buy social capital, but you can build it. You can’t sell social capital, but you can experience it.
Over the past four years, I have conducted an experiment. I have had to make withdrawals on the fund of social capital that is Iowa CIty’s, and I am happy to report that the account balance is positive.
I have early onset Parkinson’s disease. As a complication, I have dystonia, a cramping of the muscles of the feet and legs. It comes without warning: One foot curls into a ball, and the right foot hyperextends. I cannot walk; I am at risk of falling and sustaining a head injury or limb fracture.
There is no medical intervention that works for me. What I need is to get to a safe place to sit until the dystonia passes. But typically I can’t manage this by myself. I need a person willing to give me their arm for 10 or 20 or 50 feet.
Because it can happen at any time or any place, I am usually confronted with asking for help from a stranger. Because I am small, white, female and conventionally dressed, I don’t present a stereotypical threat, but I am asking for physical contact with a stranger, the breaking of a strong social barrier. Given that I started to have serious difficulty with dystonia more than three years ago, I have had to ask for this kind of assistance many dozens of times. Here’s the surprise: No one has ever said “No,” and no one has ever walked away.
An EMT trainee went into Starbucks and got me a chair to sit on in the parking lot; an Indian doctor went and got his car and drove me to CVS and let me sit in his car until the episode passed; two homeless men walked me half the length of the Ped Mall to get me to the library. Most improbably, a slight young woman with a baby on her chest and two book bags helped me cross the street by the library.
No one has said no.