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Sonder

Definition: This word represents a complex experience of the human condition, and thus is very tricky to try and pin down in brevity.

“Sonder” is the profound, individual realization that each person you meet is living their own life, that each person has their own world fitted with their own personal worries, pains, pleasures, ambitions, routines, etc– The same as yourself, in a sense, but also as intricate and as different as could be imagined. “Sonder” is the idea that there are millions of stories happening all at once, around each other, oblivious and contained from one another.

It’s the idea that You– with all of your importance of being the star in your own intimate play –aren’t really that important at all, in the grand scheme of things, and more often than not do you appear as nothing more than an overlooked extra sipping coffee or walking across the road in the background of all the separate, equally precious inner productions of strangers.

(If you appear or are recognized at all.)

Pronunciation: sohn-dehrr

Origin:

I’ve seen differing conclusions from what language this word hails.

(But in my personal, objective opinion, I’m quite sure it’s German.)

Why this word?

It’s been said that human beings are “herd animals”. In a lot of ways, this description rings undeniably true.

I’m personally convinced that the profundity of the idea of “sonder” is exactly what makes the bonds between absolute strangers so fast when said strangers realize another person enjoys the same thing that they do.

It’s a simple phenomenon, and it happens everywhere all over the globe when new people first meet– “Oh, you like ___? Me, too!” / “Wow! ___ is great, isn’t it?”

It’s pure, sincere beauty. Not ten seconds before, you couldn’t have been able to recognize the other person from the proverbial Adam or Eve, but find a mutual interest to share with them, and suddenly they become astounsingly significant. You know them now! (You might not know the main variables that make up the big assemblance of That Person– like their surname, their occupation, or where they live –but if you can mutually discuss something that excites and interests you both, the naturally lonely separateness of what it is to Be A Human is demolished in a nanosecond, and you suddenly have a trusted bridge joining your world with another’s.

This is why special interests clubs and groups are so powerful in our societies and the interpersonal relationships that exist underneath them. Call them a religion, a club, a fandom; whatever. They’re all the same experience, just different packaging. (This is why social sites like Livejournal, 4Chan, and Tumblr are so frighteningly influential.)

Special interests mediate our social interactions by uniting strangers who in many other settings might outright hate each other, but when their willingness to submit their anonymities and total control over personal lives are set aside, they happily shuffle along with others who let them feel as though they belong.

I’m convinced that the knowledge of “sonder” is something that we all (secretly) already understand. But, because the reality of our overwhelming insignificance – even, honestly, in the subconscious understanding of those special, separate humans whom we believe we love –is generally “too heavy” for many, and is incredibly uncomfortable in the most basic sense, it’s also why the (still surprising) common phenomena of finding a mutual similarity with an absolute stranger is so impressive.

How would you use this word in a sentence?

Example: “If you want to get through life completely without bruising, here’s what you’ll need to do– Don’t read books; you might learn and understand new things. Don’t listen to music; you might become aware of sonder and seek connections with other people. Don’t speak to anyone, ever. Don’t leave your house, don’t leave your bed. Don’t live.”

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Written by Veronica Jacobs

Veronica Jacobs is a fiction writer, blogger, academic editor, and sci-fi enthusiast. Currently working freelance (with a background in English Literature), she spends most of her time writing.

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