Empathy for Self and Others

Sonder- the profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers passed on 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.

Like most American children, we grow up with the Golden Rule (to treat others the way you want to be treated). The events in our life that cause us to mature are the same events that cause us to forget that the Golden Rule applies to our lives as adolescents and adults. During my first year of college, I stumbled upon the word “sonder.” The first phenomena that caused me to experience these emotions was during my first couple semesters of college. It seemed to me that every person that I was blessed to become acquainted with had a tough journey to get to college. One of my roommates had lost his father to cancer during his sophomore year of high school. Another roommate’s mother had a stroke and suddenly went from the breadwinner of the family, to severely handicapped. I’ve become close friends with people who have been victims of hate crimes, sexual assault, and DUIs. I am confident to state that everybody will experience life changing events multiple times throughout their life.

With sonder in mind, the next step in the thinking process is to accept that everybody is a product of the environment they were raised in! Unfortunately, that means some people were raised in environments that did not nurture them to be contributors to a civil society. It also means other people also have barely been affected by life changing events. These people are also products of their environment, and may not be able to weather storms as great as the next person. By environment, I’m referencing the variables that separate the characteristics of a metropolitan district versus a small town. The environment can also be a single parent home versus a nuclear family.

Apart from the environment, there are also people that are predisposed to being at risk for health problems that can also influence how they go about their lives. Developmental disabilities are completely out of the control of the kids, and they are still socially excluded due to the differences out of their control.

Empathy begins with understanding and ends with others. Especially in times right now, during a global health crisis, we need to empathize with others. Sheltering in place is to protect your neighbor, your coworker, your neighbor’s parents, or your coworker’s immune compromised daughter. Although we feel uncertain and restricted during this pandemic, we can all come out of this as a more empathetic society.

I hope you all are staying well and I wish we come out of this a little frustrated that we were a little over-prepared than wishing we prepared more.