You and Your Friend's Friends

Dear Engaged Bystander: The more I hear stories from friends and colleagues, the more I see the power that we each have to influence others. As a mother, I don't always have as much time as I'd like to read all the books I'm interested in, but this one captured my attention. It's called, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler. If you have not read this book, at least read the NY Times Book Review.

Here is what I find so exciting. Christakis and Fowler have found that obesity (among many other behaviors) spreads by contagion. "So if your friend's friend's friend -- whom you've never met, and lives a thousand miles away -- gains weight, you're likely to gain weight, too. And if your friend's friend's friend loses weight, you're likely to lose weight, too." They go on to talk about the spread of everything from sexual practices of teenagers (prevalence of oral sex) to suicide.

So if we can spread all of these behaviors, why not use this as a model to spread bystander engagement? If we can begin to spread the stories of engagement by talking to our friends about our own engagement, and when appropriate, taking action - according to Christakis and Fowler, it will spread like a contagion.

And for us, that would be great news.


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Submitted by David Lee on

Social networks are important for change.
Thanks Joan for this post. I wrote a blog about this research last fall. Considering social networks as a key element to change might be more important than individual education.

Submitted by jtabachnick on

Thanks David for your comment and for the link to your great blog entry. As I see the use of social networks expanding exponentially online, I totally agree with you that these networks will be key to social change.