Is There a Universal Human Experience?

Written by Lucie Robathan on July 11, 2017

The association space is distinctively and enormously diverse, with membership comprising of a huge variety of industries, each with their specific concerns, priorities, and struggles. Yet we all share the mutual goal of understanding, engaging, and communicating with our members. While it is important to attend to the differences that make your association, and its members, unique, there is also something powerful to be gained from tapping into what we all share.

Is there some sort of universal human experience?

Or perhaps, at least, a selection of generally shared values?

Schwartz’ Theory of Basic Values identifies ten personal values (self-direction, stimulation, hedonism, achievement, power, security, conformity, tradition, benevolence, and universalism) that appear to be shared across cultures, each of which express a motivation or goal, and which are used to communicate these goals to others. While the hierarchy of values will be organized differently according to cultural contexts, Schwartz argues that this basic set of ten is implicitly recognized by people around the globe – and that these values, how they conflict, and how they align, play a huge role in our behavior and attitudes.

Similarly, psychologists for decades have been interested in the Barnum/Foyer effect, in which generalized personality statements appear specifically tailored and personally relevant to any individual. This phenomenon is harnessed by astrologists and fortune-tellers to convince people that their private story is being told, but reveals that there are in fact some concerns, fears, desires and insecurities that are fairly universal. The video below demonstrates this effect in action, showing that even the details about our personalities that appear particular and precise are much more common than we realise:

The end of this video is especially interesting. Rather than feeling aggrieved, tricked, or manipulated, the participants of this study seemed to love discovering that their stories were not unique. If it is true that we all share similar struggles, and that there is some common human experience that most people understand, it looks like we can use this to help people feel listened to, and to deepen communicative bonds. As one lady put it, “I loved this experience…everyone does have the same insecurities, you don’t feel so alone”.

So what does this mean for our associations?

This means that it’s important to remember that although your members could be doctors, lawyers, glass manufacturers or corn growers, they are all people with similar emotional landscapes to you. It means that we need to internalize this within our communication with our members, and that we need to tap into this value level when trying to engage and motivate them. It means that we need to think about the role that emotion, as well as reason, plays in a person’s decision-making, and that we should take seriously that our emotional stories are not all that different. It also means, ultimately, that we can all learn from each other when it comes to member engagement, regardless of the specificities of our individual membership demographics.

What are some concrete ways in which we can build communication around shared values? We would love to see your suggestions below!