Social Brokerage and the Effervescence of a Life in Transition

Date Created: 03.03.2014

In a recent post on the Harvard Business Review blog, Grant McCracken wrote, after all, everyone in a homogeneous social world tends to know the same things. Interacting inside these worlds confirms this knowledge. It is when we interact outside the silo, with people with whom we have 'weak ties,' that good things happen. We effervesce.

The post, and this quote in particular, bring forth thought regarding the essence of richness in the identities of transient individuals and their propensity for brokering relationships between people, cultures, and, metaphorically speaking, worlds even.

The wealth of networks and the power of social capital has always been a hot topic in the realm of business. Subsequently, the birth of social media has caused this conversation to explode. Network expansion has meant something entirely different online as we are able to engage with so many more people than we had imagined. It has also made it acceptable for a complete stranger to "follow" you, but I digress. Everyone has a network and everyone has a network that is expanding, and globally at that. (You can measure your online influence with sites like Klout.) So, what makes globally transient people different?

As the cultural diplomats that we are, we translate and relate experience through the knowledge we share, the food we serve, the cultural artefacts we display, and so much more. We simulate the experience for others in the form of brokerage. We are negotiating the experience for others and acting as a cultural agent. There are many of us who have sought to do this through our work, but many of us do this for the pure pleasure of it. There is value in creating a non-siloed environment, where diverse perspectives are shared.

Now, to go back to the quote, there are moments in sharing these relics, tastes, smells, sounds, and stories, when we do not speak of the 'weak ties' that may have initially sparked our connection with these cultural symbols. However, it is the 'weak ties,' as McCracken says, that cause good things to happen. We celebrate diversity, yet we may not appreciate the adversity.

In an article called "Ecstasy Without Agony Is Baloney," William H. Blanchard wrote, "...one does not go in search of the holy grail of personal fulfilment with full immunity from the dragons along the way. If the individual is really in search of awareness, he must be prepared for an ego-shattering experience in which there is genuine danger. One does not achieve great rewards without taking great risks."

If what Blanchard and McCracken say is true, then it is the adversity that one faces in these global transitions which is truly of value. The adversity is what allows us to create, relate, and inform within our environments. The networks of socially mobile people are those born out of substantive experiences and they include individuals one would never have imagined meeting. Consequently, as social networks go, these are some of the most fascinating... the most effervescent.

Contributed by Mary Margaret Herman, a dual-citizen with an Irish and U.S. passport who has taught in France and works in the post-graduate education sector. She is currently serving on the board of directors for Families in Global Transition.