John Koenig initially used this new word in 2012 in his project, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. His work aims to develop new terms for emotions that currently lack words. The German word for sorrow reportedly inspires his newly coined term.
The complete definition in his dictionary is “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.”
Other dictionaries give it this simplified definition. “The realization that there aren’t any main characters in the world, and everyone has a complex life, thoughts, crushes, relatives, dreams, and mind just as your own.”
The primary idea is that every single person has a story. So while you may be the main character in your story, you also understand that you are a background player in someone else’s story.
As a believer, we understand that God can use our scene in their story to impact its outcome. Everyone we meet has their own tale, but we have the opportunity to interject love, grace, kindness, and hope where it has been lacking.
Sonder is a good feeling, but that does not make you less important. On the contrary, it gives you the chance to impact other people’s stories for good.