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Creating Culture Through Shared Experience

I am of the age that I remember going to school and discussing with friends what we were watching on TV the evening before. We didn't have cable, and by today's standards, one would even wonder if we had TV. We had three channels NBC, ABC, and CBS and if the State of the Union Address was on TV that's what we watched. As deficient in technology as this sounds it actually created a rich experience because watching something on TV would most likely be a shared experience the next day.

Most everyone watched the same shows, same, mini-series, we were taught in similar ways, most of us were hooked on phonics, followed the same sports teams, wore similar clothes, were into similar fads. If we watched the news, it was the same format. News, weather, and sports. The end result was our opinions didn't vary that much, because we all shared similar experiences, and those shared experiences gave us opportunities to discuss our opinions on similar topics.

We now have more access to more media than ever before. There is so much available to us that finding a shared experience with another person is actually very challenging.

The purpose of this post is not to discuss the virtues of having more or less influence in our lives, but rather to make the point that as a society we don't have as many shared experiences.

Today we share platforms, but we seldom share experiences because each platform is as varied as the person on the platform. (My Twitter feed is a unique experience to me because it is based on who I follow and what I consume) This is great because it is unique, but it doesn't create a shared experience.


This doesn't mean that we all have the same experience, or that we all agree on what the experience was good, bad, fun, or boring. The shared experience is valuable because we get to be human. That we all get to discuss, evaluate and communicate the experience with each other. It is something that we did together, something that we survived together. Why is it that survivors of a horrific event will all feel connected? Was the bond that they all felt the exact same thing about the event? Was it because they all have the exact same story? The shared experience was valuable because we all went through it together.

As leaders in our schools, organizations, and businesses we have a responsibility to create experiences that we can share. Shared experiences create identity. If you are on a team with someone. You each share that experience, you identify with it, and that identity builds community and empathy within the group.

Shared Experiences Create Culture Because:

  • It builds personal identity, we understand others because we went through it together

  • We gain empathy because we see how others are affected by a shared experience

  • Gives us an opportunity to verbalize and create meaning of our life and events

  • Lack of shared experiences leads to silo thinking. We are not connected we are all different

  • We see discomfort as an opportunity to grow. When we go through a challenging experience as a group we begin to see how our differences made us stronger.

A Lack of Shared Experience Denigrates Culture Because:

  • We tend to villainize those who have different opinions.

  • We see differences in others rather than how we are similar.

  • It causes us to seek comfort rather than growth.

  • We tend to "silo" ourselves out of the belief that no-one really understands me.

  • We become easily offended because we feel like everyone is out to get me.

  • We develop a victim is virtue mentality.

How Do We Create Shared Experiences?

  • Challenge students to be involved in clubs, teams, and organizations.

  • Create experiences in which people get together for a cause.

  • Make speakers, seminars, and workshops a regular part of your culture.

  • Read a book, watch a movie or video as part of a group project. Then encourage open discussion that allows all to participate and give input.

  • Create and implement an improvement plan based on group input

It is what we do together that matters the most!

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