Sonder is the word to describe the phenomenon that occurs when you realize and acknowledge that everyone around you is living a life as detailed and complex as yours. When you are walking to the subway or parked in traffic waiting for the light to change, sonder is what happens when your thoughts deviate from your own inner monologue to that of others. Sonder is what happens when you are walking through the streets of your city with a bag of groceries and a nervous twitch in your head reminding you of that accidental text you sent, that time you forget to say goodbye and that awful situation that happened at work, when you look up and realize that all the hundreds of other people you see around you are experiencing the exact same phenomenon at the same time as you.
The term sonder itself is a recently coined phrase, created in the blogosphere and not seen before. As much as it is a trend word, now that the concept has been brought to the attention of millions, it should not be played down and its thoughtful ramifications should be properly considered.
When we are down and out we become rather selfish, and for good measure, as when our mind and bodies experience what we see as stress, it is our duty to look inward to defend ourselves as humans and seek strength and prosperity. We become a turtle and use our shell to distance ourselves from other outside stressors, in order for us to overcome the ones we are currently feeling. It’s a defensive mechanism and a soothing technique too. When we are vulnerable we are not in a position to positively help anyone else, and we tend to see things from a one track mind.
The concept of sonder, which roughly means to probe or to search in French and German, respectively, gives us respite from our social withdrawal, which is a great way to overcome any fleeting bad energies we are carrying at the time. We all have bad days, but it is not healthy to dwell on them, and we should do that as little as possible. When you are having a dim reflection of your current day or life events, look around you and consider all the other people enduring the same heavy feelings you are; or better yet, use the positive energy from all the happy people you see to motivate yourself.
Sonder doesn’t have to reflect the burdens we all carry, but also the joy we share. Sonder is the realization of the vivid lives that we all share and enjoy together. When you see someone laughing, laugh with them; togetherness and unity is what keeps us all together. It is the way for us to realize our collective ambitions – that when you are on the tram home thinking of new business ideas and writing down new ideas for your next home design or essay, someone else is too, creating and developing the world together, independently.
In order to overcome our personal demons we have to immediately replace the feelings with something else. An act of selflessness is the perfect solution. Instead of focusing on why you are having a bad day, transit your mind to think of other people around you. Consider what they might be experiencing in their day to day life; do not use it as a comparison to make up fanciful stories that let you rest your head, but as something to think of and help you overcome your own struggles more confidently.
This concept allows us to think better of people. At one fancy restaurant I worked at, I remember our manager hired a new bartender who was tall, obese and otherwise quite sloppy. He had sloppy hair and wore his unfitting cloth es in a sloppy manner, while the rest of us were quite well to do. He had a good high English accent, but no one could overcome his uncouth style and manners.
I saw what was happening as none of the other staff members gave him any positive attention, so I made the effort to become very nice to him and welcome him to our staff family.
It quickly turned out that despite his sloppy looks, he was a world class bartender with an excellent taste for foods, had brilliant wit, a charming girlfriend, and quickly became one of our best friends. He made a point to me one night to mention that I was the only person that was nice to him when he started, while now he lead our friendship groups and was often the life of the party. His personality and hidden charm showed all of us not to judge a book by its cover.
Sonder is all of these things. It’s a way to allow us to get over the little things that bring our day down while we remember all the single moms on the bus working hard on their way home after a long day, the kids who are about to write hugely important exams, the people smiling for no reason, and the ability for us to look up to people we don’t know yet, but just might one day.