The profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers passed in the street, has a life as complex as one’s own, which they are constantly living despite one’s personal lack of awareness of it.
Do people, feeling, and lives exist when I cannot see them? Is anything important that is not important to me? Do people love, and hurt, and hope, and cry as much as I do? Do they think stupid thoughts and hear a voice that is theirs but isn’t theirs inside their heads? Telling them when to feel embarrassed or pathetic? Do others really day dream and wish for lives they can never live?
I people watch and I wonder what they feel when they go to bed at night. I wonder what they think about in the shower or what they wish for when they blow out their birthday candles. Part of me wants to know if what I do, and think, and feel is normal. Part of me has this crazy idea that no one else think or feels like I do. It’s seems too crazy an idea that there are whole stories and lives, just as complex as mine, going on all around me.
The amount of emotion and thought happening all at once, all over this world, is more than I can fathom.
Object permanence is the concept that a being can understand that objects exist even when they cannot be seen. But what if an object has never been seen? What if a feeling has never been felt? How can I ever know other people are as real as me if I have never felt what it is like to be other people?
Another part of this is my natural ego-centrism. I can never get out of my own viewpoint so it’s difficult for me to imagine any other way. I am the center of my story, the only story there is, as far as I am concerned. But every so often something clicks in my mind, the world shifts, and I clearly see, for just a moment, that everyone has the same story too.
There is no official English word to describe this feeling. Considering how strong and important a feeling it is I am surprised there isn’t. There is a new word though, “sonder”, coined by John Koeing for his “Dictionary of Obscure Words, but it has not yet entered the greater public’s lexicon. I think it should though. If you’ve felt it you know it is a powerful thing, an overwhelming emotion, and can, for just a moment, change your view of the whole human race.
When it clicks, when sonder hits, it really is like being connected to every other person you can see. You can see that all around you epic and complex stories are being lived, only you are not a part of them. You will never even know them. You are nothing but an extra, a character in the background never to be seen or heard from again.
If it’s particularly strong, you feel it for the whole planet and your heart swells up in your chest and you suffocate with under it. You are overwhelmed by the the sheer amount of humaness walking around on this Earth.
If you’ve never felt it I urge you to go to a park, or a mall, or some other populated place and think about the fact that every person you pass feels, thinks, and dreams the same as you. The are complicated in all the ways you are and they are just as misunderstood. They have families and they fall in and out of love. They are hurting, they feel lost and scared, they try to be brave, just like you. They are nothing but extras in your story too and they will never be privy to the epic tale you are living either.
Think about that for a short time and you will feel it mixed in with a little love and a little sadness for each passerby, for all the hope and suffering they will endure.
Just like you.
Featured image: The Nitty Gritty Rather Pretty…. by Devin Smith