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What we seek - at every level - is pluralism that achieves some kind of coherence, wholeness incorporating diversity. . . . To prevent the wholeness from smothering the diversity, there must be a philosophy of pluralism, and an open climate for dissent and opportunity for sub-communities to retain their identity and share in the setting of larger group goals. To prevent diversity from destroying the wholeness, there must be institutional arrangements for diminishing polarization, for teaching diverse groups to know one another, for coalition-building, dispute resolution, negotiation and mediation.
- John Gardner
A mosaic of people from different racial, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds, the United States is one of the most ethnically diverse societies in the world. While this diversity has occurred more rapidly in some states and urban areas, we are, as a country, undergoing a profound demographic transformation. As we move into a century during which there will be no majority ethnic group, our nation is grappling with critical questions about how we function as a society Will we invest in the well-being of all groups living within our borders and find ways to draw strength from our diversity? Or will we allow our nation to become a society of haves and have-nots, with the demarcations falling primarily along racial lines? Will people of all backgrounds have the opportunity to exercise their rights and responsibilities as members of a democracy? Or will authority and power be consolidated into the hands of a few? Will we become a society torn apart by divisions of race, language, and class, or will we find the common ground that can enable us to remain a cohesive whole?
How we understand and respond to our diversity is essential to any discussion of social policy in this country, especially how we design strategies to strengthen and foster the existence of social capital. According to Robert Putnam, social capital comprises the features of social life - the network, norms, and trust that enable participants to act together more effectively to pursue shared objectives. Social capital is critical to the well-being of any community because its presence increases people's ability to work together to solve problems that cannot be addressed by individuals working in isolation.
While social capital alone cannot ensure a thriving multiracial democracy, it is essential. In the United States, social capital is needed to ensure cooperation and mutual support among and across people from different racial, cultural, and linguistic groups. Social capital is integral to groups' ability to develop and retain their individual identities and histories, as well as to find the common ground that can bind them together. What we, as a country, must discover is how to nurture social capital in a rapidly changing, increasingly diverse society. This article will explore this challenge by first examining the origins of social capital and then …