I write facing a window that overlooks a busy Chicago intersection.
Down below, hundreds of people move through my periphery every hour.
Most of the time, I don’t think about these people at all. I certainly don’t think about them as individuals. They’re just strangers to me, random pedestrians waiting for the light to change.
But every so often, I have a moment of clarity.
I look down at the anonymous people crossing the street and realize they’re all like me: consumed by their work and their relationships; constantly thinking about their choices, their fuck-ups, the lessons they’ve learned.
They’re each burdened by their mistakes and failures, their worries and regrets. And they’re lifted by the things that make them happy, whatever those may be.
In that moment, I’m inexplicably reminded that we’re all the same because we’re all at the mercy of the human condition.
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This realization is called Sonder, a word coined by John Koenig.
He runs a blog called The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, where he defines universal emotions that don’t have an official name. These ubiquitous yet undefined feelings are known as neologisms.
Sonder is a neologism — and this is Koenig’s (profoundly moving) definition of it:
noun. 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.
As marketers and copywriters, it’s important to tap into sonder constantly.
If you feel it, don’t dismiss it. Let it wash over you. You’ll be a more empathetic person for it — and a better marketer, too.
A marketer’s job, after all, is embracing the worldview of others, even if that view is starkly different from their own.
And doing so can be incredibly difficult.
But feeling sonder makes it easier.
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