The Power of Shared Experience

The Shared Human Experience methodology pioneered by Beyond Conflict in 1992 has become recognized around the world as a powerful tool for envisioning peace and reconciliation, and it has been replicated by numerous organizations, governments and practitioners.

This methodology is inspired by the belief that individuals and societies respond to the legacy of repression, violence and fear fundamentally the same way around the world, and those who have already gone through these difficult experiences are the best positioned to offer support and guidance to those similarly positioned today.

Political leader Monica McWilliams learned the value of the shared experience in the early 1990s as an academic writing about the role of women in political conflict. For a long time she wanted nothing to do with politics, which she saw as adversarial, tribal and unproductive. “But then I realized listening to the South Africans at the 1995 Project on Justice in Times of Transition [now Beyond Conflict] Belfast conference that you have to be inside politics to bring about real change.”

That moment was decisive for McWilliams and prompted her to co-found the cross-community Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, which eventually grew in size and influence and successfully had an impact in shaping the political agreements.  She built on the contacts with South Africans and went back to leaders like Cyril Ramaphosa and Roelf Meyer when roadblocks emerged.

“These two South African negotiators from opposing sides emphasized the importance of building personal relationships, “seeing the humanity in the other person” and communicating and reaching out through difficult times.

“It took us a few years to get there,” McWilliams notes, “because people were much more fixated on getting the paperwork right and the words right on paper than they were on getting the words right in their own personal language toward one another. But things have changed phenomenally.”

To read more, please see our book