The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is a website and Youtube channel by poet John Koeing. Koeing made up words that he felt were missing from the English language that he wanted to use in his poetry. Among them is the word “Sonder”:
n. 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—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.
In order to support others well, it is important that we learn to de-center ourselves as we listen. As Koeing illustrates with his word sonder, we must remember – and keep reminding ourselves to remember – that we are not the lead in someone else’s story. Rather, each person’s individual story and experience is as vivid, important, central and valid as another’s. When we are able to recognize our biases, decenter ourselves and center the other, we will be better able to listen and understand.