I am walking down a busy street somewhere in Queens looking at all of the faces of the people who pass me by. I try to catch the expressions on their faces and pick up snippets of conversation and wonder where they are going and if their life is so much different from my own. I feel a deep melancholy when I realize any one of these people could change my life, yet after a brief moment they are gone. This feeling is not new to me and only recently did I discover it is referred to as “sonder”.
I never know if I will meet that man who passed me with a pensive look on his face. Most likely he left my life forever, but maybe some day he will find me and want to meet me. Everyone I see starts out as a stranger and by happenstance they find me. I see life as an infinite web of choices and know just one minor change could be the difference between a stranger, a friend, or a lover. It is so hard to imagine that someone so dear and vital to my life could have just been a nameless man walking past me, but I am happy he found me.
One of the most wonderfully objective and empathetic people I know is my Grandma. Whenever I was upset about someone’s actions toward me she would try to see it from their point of view. One time I got frustrated at this habit of my Grandma’s and she sighed and said “Bones, most people are going throughout their lives trying to do the best they can”.
I took my grandma’s words to heart and remember them everytime someone does something that I don’t understand. Truth is most people aren’t inherently bad; we are all just striving for some semblance of happiness. Unfortunately we are all selfish to a degree and on top of that have to deal with fears and insecurities.
We see the world from our own unique perspectives which are largely dependent on our identity, upbringing, life experiences and personality and it shapes how we feel about and treat other people. The only life you have lived is your own and the only thoughts you hear are the ones in your brain. Your experiences may or may not create fears that are real to you but are not rooted in reality.
We don’t have the ability to instantly understand someone’s life story. Putting yourself in someone else’s moccasins takes a lot of thought and a lot of work. It means truly listening to them and bearing witness to what they go through and taking your perspective out of the equation. You may feel pain during this process, but the end result is compassion and a greater understanding of the world. None of us are perfect, but by striving to understand others who are different from ourselves we can become better people and improve the world.