Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Encounters with strangers Here's today's social capital topic. I went to the station this morning for a train to London and the service was disrupted with cancellations and delays. A few others milled around mulling the options - alternative routes, waiting around for a surprise train appearance, trudging back home? As I chatted with Joe in the ticket office, a man came up and asked if I'd been planning on going to London - 'I was,' he said, 'and I went home to get the car to drive in, just thought I'd stop by and see if anyone else was stuck here... Can I give you a lift?' (NB it's not like this is remote outback: just 15 miles from central London). I thanked him for his generosity but had already taken the decision to abandon my attempt to get to a meeting. Questions for students of social capital: Was his offer (and presumably his diversion via the station) a moral adjustment sparked by guilt at using unsustainable transport? Would he have made the same offer to a woman? To a hoodied youngster? If I had accepted, should he in turn have accepted my offer to contribute to fuel costs? How much would I have offered, and would I have seemed sincere? Would he have felt obliged to discuss options for liaising on the return journey? What do you talk about to a stranger cocooned in a car with the prospect of a traffic-harassed 90 minutes on a miserable day? Meself, I don't take a sceptical view, I thought it was a generous and considerate gesture, and partly I regret not celebrating that by having taken it up.

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