A couple of months ago, a dear relative of mine passed away. A few hours after the death, my family and I went for a walk to get out in nature and begin to process the grief. During the walk, I had the realisation that not one of the people who walked past us (greeting us with a smile and a ‘good afternoon’ like it was a regular day for us) had any idea that we’d just lost a close family member. This seems obvious now, but at the time it felt like everyone should have known what we were going through.
I was reminded of ‘sonder’; a word which is used to sum up the feeling you get when you realise that every human being is experiencing a life with as much depth and richness as your own. Here is the definition:
“the realisation that each random passer-by is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”
The realisation I had on that walk, and the quote above, is a great reminder that we have no idea what is happening beneath the surface of a person, yet we can often so easily judge people without considering their story, circumstances and experiences.
This reminder helped shape my new year’s resolution; to interact with every person I meet with love, kindness and respect as if they’d just lost a loved one.
So I invite you to remember ‘sonder’ and treat everyone with love and respect; not as a reflection of their character but as a reflection of yours.