Sonder and solipsism: two fairly obscure words that fall at opposite ends of the spectrum of our interpersonal relationships.
Below is an extract from my book, Metamorphosis. It’s taken from Chapter 8, ‘Love: Reframing How We See Others’ and explains why sonder is a mechanism for really seeing, and appreciation, the inner richness of our fellow humans:
“It’s hard for our brains to process that billions of people on the planet can all, simultaneously, lead a life that is as rich and varied as our own. It’s almost easier to believe in metaphysical solipsism, which is the philosophy that the self is the only reality, and that our world and other people only exist as representations of ourselves, and have no independent existence.
I was much younger when I came across this concept and I remember being terrified by it; it felt like the most isolating idea in the world. Now I find it obnoxiously ego-centric. It is truly the antithesis of the idea that we are all connected and interwoven in one consciousness. I choose connection.
If solipsism paints all others as unreal, then sonder is a concept that makes our fellow humans shine as three-dimensional beings. The word sonder was only coined in 2012 by John Koenig; it’s new enough that my computer keeps auto-correcting it to wonder. A Google search throws up the following definition: sonder is ‘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.’
Essentially, sonder is the understanding that all other humans lead an inner life whose richness and complexity is equal to ours. Unless we’re into solipsism, we already know this intellectually, but it really does boggle the mind: billions of humans with unique and equally elaborate inner worlds. When we embrace this, we bring our fellow humans out of the shadows and into the limelight in our lives; we marvel at their unique qualities and we appreciate the ways in which, together, we can be so much greater than the sum of our parts.”
Metamorphosis is available to buy in the following places:
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