Sonder-n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.
I first came across this term a few months ago while browsing through travel blogs and it instantly struck me. There are so few times in my life that I have realized I was missing a word from my knowledge bank, but the meaning of sonder is something I sometimes think about when walking through busy streets or riding crowded metro cars. I just didn’t realize there was a word for it.
People are complex creatures with dreams and emotions and families and troubled pasts and hopeful futures. We all strive to be happy and we all strive to find our place in this world. We may not know what the person in line ahead of us is thinking or going through, but you can bet they have an interesting story to tell. Sometimes I think about how spectacular it would be if we were able to “see” thoughts–I imagine the space right above our heads would appear simultaneously colorful and perplexing.
I think one of the reasons I am drawn to this word is that is it simply a realization. There is nothing much more profound beyond that. There is no answer or action that needs to be taken in discussing this term. And that’s okay. It is just understanding that the people around us are living their own story. And we are simply an extra on the set of someone else’s movie, the background in each other’s photos, the passing face in the window of a car. We are all in this shared space, but we are each living our own version of reality. It’s a beautiful thing if you think about it. We are interwoven on this planet, yet we will never truly know the majority of people around us.
But sometimes we can have an effect on someone’s life without knowing or meaning to. We can make someone’s day by complimenting their dress, or holding the door, or giving a tip to an overworked barista. We are often so absorbed in our own worlds and I think sonder is a term to remind us we are not alone in this. We are all experiencing this weird and fun and scary life together. We should open our own worlds and eyes to the beauty of the life around us.
This image of earth was taken July 6th, 2015 and was photographed at 1,000,000 miles from our planet. It is one of the few photographs of the entire sunlit side of Earth from that distance. It’s a stunning reminder that we are all together, living unique, meaningful, yet fleeting lives on the most gorgeous spec of dust in an ever-expanding universe.
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