Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Sonder -- My Word for 2016

Sonder – As I searched for ‘my’ word, I searched a site that promised beautiful words…and I found sonder: 
...the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness”

Immediately I thought back to my childhood and the train trips I took with my grandmother to and from Kansas City and Los Angeles…wonderful trips through towns I’d visit as an adult. Every time the train would slow going through a town, I’d smash my face up against the window to look at all those people I’d never meet…people walking out of shops, riding their bikes home, eating dinner, doing homework. I was deeply aware of a connection ‘through a glass darkly.’ We were all terribly human, but we knew nothing about each other. Our lives only intersected for that moment as a child making a blurry mess on a train window searched…for what, she didn’t know. It was sonder I was experiencing…that feeling that we were all alike and all unknowable.

If I choose sonder as my word, what will that impel me to do, think, say? How will that drive me through 2016? How does that matter?

I want to recapture that feeling of wonder as I work with others, remembering they are rich, complex people whose lives are unknowable…I want to respect and honor their lives as important. I want to work with others, knowing much of their lives and hearts are and always be secret and hidden. I can appreciate them without understanding. I can work with them, without agreeing on every facet of our lives. I can give them their separateness.

I don’t have to feel slighted or frustrated when others don’t respond the way I think they should…they are living their complex lives…as the stars of their story. I’m rightfully a bit player in their story. And that’s the way it should be.

I will face my year with wills and won’ts

I will

  • Respect
  • Listen
  • Honor
  • Appreciate
  • Look for commonalities
  • Find the intersections in our lives
  • Find patience for others
  • Assume positive intent
  • Look for ways to contribute
  • Step back and breathe

I won’t

  • Take things personally
  • Assume others understand me
  • Brood
  • Feel hurt
  • Assume others are ignoring me, meaning to slight me
  • Assign motives to others’ behavior or words

Focusing on sonder will allow me to find my own truth and let others find the same.

The children who visit the elementary library where I volunteer have rich, complex lives…they need me to stop and listen. Their insights are keen. Their feelings are real. Stopping to visit and really visit will show them I care about them. That I want to hear a bit of their story and spend a moment or so with them.

Adults deserve the same respect…my silent acknowledgment of their truth and their stories will help me keep a balance, and help me focus on our common goals. I don’t have to be a main character in their story. It’s fine to be a walk-on. I can still contribute.

Some policy makers may present a challenge. And I think I need to face that challenge. A person who disagrees with me on policy is not an evil person…he or she works from a different story, a different complex life. I cannot begin to know or understand, but I don’t have to in order to look for that connection.

Even now as an adult I people-watch, making up imaginary lives for strangers I see on the street. Even now, I love reading fiction because I am allowed to participate in rich, complex lives of totally fictional characters.

And then I learned it’s a totally made-up word with no etymology. It was invented, as Shakespeare invented words he needed, by the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. I love that title as much as I love the word ‘sonder’.

But I’m sticking with my made-up word, because I so deeply identify with the concept. I’ve felt it my whole life…feeling separate and apart, and yet knowing others felt the same.

So, wish me luck as I face my year with sonder and respect and patience and trust.

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