As we conclude another capacity-building workshop, I find myself reflecting on what it means to have a shared experience? Why do we feel so much more comfortable and safe among others who have lived through a similar experience?
Whilst time on our own is healthy and enjoyable, it can at times be indescribably difficult. Nevertheless there is a place and time for personal reflection and being comfortable with your own company during the grief process. Just as important though, and significantly easier in many instances, is to spend time with others who have a shared experience. Organisational psychologists refer to this as social capital.
Social capital is fundamentally the benefit that a person gets from engagement in a particular social environment. Generally the membership of that group has a common interest, a purpose and a bond or solidarity around elective belief, ideology or dogma.
Robert Putman talks of two ways of looking at social capital. The first of these is what is known as bonding. Putman says, “the shared social norms and cooperative spirit from bonding provide social safety nets to individual and groups to protect themselves from external invasion.” This is particularly relevant when we look at a lived experience of suicide. Most people who experience suicide in their lives also experience the “invasion” of beliefs, judgements, behaviours caused by a lack of understanding and knowledge about the experience.
Social capital essentially poses the question, “What do I get out of being involved in this group that I can’t find anywhere else?” When people with a lived experience of suicide come together there is a special connection. A connection that occurs with the deep understanding and empathy, compassion and honesty, and sense of belonging that comes with a group that they don’t have to justify themselves to or be anything different. No airs and graces have to be put on. No masks have to be worn.
Through the Suicide Prevention Lived Experience Speakers Bureau, we have the privilege of sitting with, and walking alongside people with a lived experience of suicide as we explore and learn how to share our story. I say privilege because to be invited into another person’s world, their most personal space, into their memories, some fond and some painful, is indeed a privilege. When people experience significant trauma in their lives something else happens. A new perspective of what is really, truly important is uncovered. Their is an authenticity that burns brightly and strong bonds are forged quickly.