There are many “boomers” and middle-aged parents like me, I imagine, who have been forced over the past couple of years to ask their kids for the meaning of the term “woke”.
Which was why I was less ashamed to admit my ignorance about the word “sonder” when a family member mentioned it recently.
Have you heard of “sonder”?
My relation used the word in response to the meme below that I had posted on Instagram. It was my self-deprecating way of summing up my feelings about our return to some form of social life (or not) after our government downgraded our COVID restrictions in Sydney.
Clearly, the meme came from the perspective of an introverted, socially anxious person, who gets through most social events by drinking heavily, i.e., me. But evidently, my relation was unaware of my social anxiety.
It’s always a tad embarrassing for a writer when someone uses a word you don’t know, But I knew I’d have to check out its meaning to make an appropriate response to her.
According to Wiktionary, “sonder” is:
“The profound feeling of realising that everyone, including strangers passed in the street, has a life as complex as one’s own.”
It is the knowledge that everyone has a story, and not necessarily a good story. Potentially, it is a great way (in theory) to prevent us “judging books by their cover”, and to increase our levels of compassion. And on a personal level, it also links back to a piece I wrote a few months ago about the “masks” people wear — particularly those with mental health issues as they try to fit in with the expectations of society.
We need to have a “sonder” moment, where we realise that we aren’t the only ones with feelings, dreams, regrets and hopes.
And there is an obvious connection between being “woke” and “sonder”
That’s not to say we can only develop compassion for those less fortunate if we are victims of trauma
But it does come easier, sometimes, for those whose eyes have been opened.
“Life is shit, and then you die,” is a phrase we use a lot. But none of us truly believe that trauma is that common until a story like Grace Tame’s is brought to our attention.
Grace is the inspiring, winner of this year’s Australian of the Year award— a beautiful, engaging, Australian woman in her twenties whose courage and determination to fight the Tasmanian legal system about litigation in rape and sexual abuse trials, who does not fit into the false stereotype we have been given of rape victims. She is also living proof that:
1) Most people have “a story”,
2) No one is exempt from trauma, and
3) Not all “survivors” look like the visual we have in our heads — in the same way that most rapists don’t look like rapists.
Grace is the perfect example of someone whose story is not pretty but needs to be heard by the public
She understands that in sharing our experiences of trauma, we can help the healing process of others. To help others was one of my main objectives when I started my blog eight years ago. The original premise for My Midlife Mayhem was to journal the unravelling of my life as I entered peri-menopause and juggled our son’s mental health struggles at the same time. And in the time since I published my first post, I have received countless comments from readers about their own experiences of mental illness, challenges with parenting etc.
Grace wants to encourage women to share their experiences of sexual assault to help remove the shame and stigma that often goes hand in hand with abuse. However, as she pointed out on a news show last week, many victims struggle to revisit those places of trauma and talk about them publicly, hence, it requires a level of patience, lack of judgment, and compassion from those who engage with them.
A level of “wokeness”.
I like to think I am “woke”, but I know I still have a lot to learn
I am aware of issues of social and racial justice, and I also believe that the benefit of personal trauma – if there is one – is that it can shape us into more compassionate people.
A large part of my job as a writer is to analyse people and their circumstances closely, to peel back their layers, and discover what challenges they were forced to overcome to achieve their goals — like Joe Biden, for example. I should add, however, that some people who experience trauma never overcome it, no matter how hard they try. And we shouldn’t punish them for that. And for many, their trauma prevents them from reaching their full potential and even functioning on a daily basis.
That’s where “sonder” and more of us being “woke” may help them.
Compassion is vital for the growth of our society
Especially in our current climate, when inequalities are still ignored. It never ceases to amaze me how defiantly resistant some people are to simple acts of kindness, and why, perhaps, the only way to effect the changes we need is by giving the microphone to the marginalised.
Activists like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Malala Yousafzai proved that speaking up about discrimination can change society’s views. In spite of their critics — who accused them of being hysterical, emotional, attention-seekers, and lefties — they stuck their necks out for their beliefs.
Being “woke” is understanding that everyone has a story and that inequality and discrimination are still rife in our society. Practising them, is taking a pause to think about the bigger picture before we make judgements.