The Power of Shared Human Experience

By Esnatt Gondwe

I was recently contemplating the reason why William Shakespeare, a British poet, is popular everywhere! People quote him on Valentine’s Day to their special someone, or use his sonnets as central reference in literature courses. Why? Why is a British poet not only famous in his own country but also in countries all over the world? I think this is true because of his subject matter. Shakespeare wrote about human experiences like love, loss, and betrayal. He reached communities and people foreign to him by writing about experiences that he knew everyone could relate to. People can be from different backgrounds or countries, or can be of different races and sexual orientation, but they can have similar life experiences. Being a Global Health Corp fellow has opened my eyes to this truth; it is our shared experiences that help to foster the relationships we have with each other, and it is these experiences that build our understanding of the link between different communities and countries. Road navigation in the United States, for example, may be different from navigation in Malawi, but both countries have roads, even though they may be of different standards. Similarly, if someone mentions the words “traffic lights,” everybody, regardless of nationality, knows that they are referring to the mechanism that regulates road traffic.

Countries however, are classified in different stages of the developmental journey; some are near the end, some are in the middle, and some are at the beginning. Regardless of positioning, they are all on the same journey, and will therefore deal with similar issues. I recently had a little road accident. I was trying to get onto the main road; there were no traffic lights, so I had to rely on my own vision, which was being blocked by a huge car that decided to park off the side of the road. I entered the road when I thought I was clear, but did not see a car coming towards me, so my door collided with the bumper of a Toyota Corolla. Journeys may or may not have a problem; when I started off I did not anticipate the occurrence of an accident, but it happened. The problems we face as individuals may occur in different ways depending on the environment, but the core concept of having a problem is a universal experience. Someone may be able to relate to my story not because they know the road it was on, or were in the car, but because they have had their own version of an accident. Even though no one was hurt – thank God! – and the damage to the cars was very minimal, in the moment when the two cars collided, before we knew the result of the impact, the fear that we felt could be shared with someone who has had an accident that had different, more fatal results. If you take out the details that make a situation unique to specific people, you can find an element in the experience that ties it to another person. Working with my co- fellow, people in the community, and government officials, who all have different backgrounds and experiences, pushes me to look at the places where similarities exist. The shared experiences provide the interface to align the differences and find the point where these differences can complement each other.

I have therefore made it my mission, to use this year to look not only at the differences individuals bring to the table, but at how the incorporation of these differences and the element of shared experiences can help to foster understanding and cohesion between individuals and the organizations they represent. I am excited! Investing in the cultivation of people and their relationships with each other by relating shared experiences, though hard, reaps a long term reward. The fact that Shakespeare’s human experience centered work is as popular now as it was then is proof of this!