On SondersteemCreated with Sketch.

in #life2 years ago (edited)

Sonder 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.”1

Anthony Delanoix

It’s no secret that we’re facing a crisis in communication. Even though we have mass communication on a global scale, we still don’t know how to communicate with people who have radically different values… what we might call incommensurable values. In my opinion, the first step to resolving these deep disagreements is to realize that while our experiences may be different, we all live and experience the world in the same way.2

The growing divide

While many people say that they are “open” to all beliefs, I find that we at best tolerate opposing doctrines, "we don’t actually let them sit at our table".3

We see science vs. religion, the right vs. the left, and it seems like people are fighting everywhere over what is right and wrong. Contradicting values seem to make progress impossible and if we can't resolve these, we won't be able to create a unified and decentralized future.

Arguing with Ideology

These deep disagreements happen because we perceive that the other person is ideological while we are not… Our own beliefs are always objective.4 Sonder is an important tool here because it shows that our values and beliefs are based on our experiences just like everyone else’s. The only difference is that our own values and beliefs feel more objective.

We often have these deep prejudices because we evaluate other people’s beliefs using our own. It seems like when we can’t understand another person’s values, it’s because we assume in a way that ours are the right one's. After all, our beliefs are always so obvious.

Understanding the role that you play in their experience.

I’ve had people tell me that I made them feel a certain way or that I hurt them when I didn't intend to (usually by speaking too aggressively or something). My immediate reaction is “no I didn’t!”. But this perfectly represents the problem that we are having today. It’s very difficult to understand (and believe!) that their experiences are as real as our own and can be radically different from our own.5

This is why we merely tolerate other values: we can’t really understand how someone could believe that. “They're crazy!” … or more frequently “They have no evidence”. But the important tool that we have, is that actually, even though we can't accept their beliefs, They have the same evidence that we do.6

Sonder is a novel approach to these situations because it shows that everyone’s beliefs are real in the same way as our own (even if it doesn’t seem like it, or we can’t understand them).

What’s next

At this point, we aren’t really concerned with right and wrong, we’ve only touched a very small piece of this model. In my opinion, the way to move forward from this growing inability to communicate starts with being able to acknowledge the realness of the other and the validity of the beliefs (Yes! This means we need to concede that our interpretation of events isn't the only valid one... I blame modern psychology for this).

Please be aware that this is a working theory. I’m just trying to develop some new tools for understanding values, beliefs, and incommensurable arguments because the ones that we have today are only making the divide worse. Questions are always welcome, stay tuned for the follow-up where I explore the role of pragmatism in determine our beliefs.

To begin practicing Sonder, try to imagine yourself as part of someone else’s world, a mere player in their experiences. If you listen, and if you believe them, you might just get lost in a whole new perspective.

Julian Jagtenberg


  1. Dictionary Definition
  2. While we all obviously have different experiences in life, we all seem to operate in a similar way. What drives us? Why do we act? Why do we believe things that we do? What can explain how to people have different interpretations of the same experience?
  3. This is from "Why We Can't All Get Along" by Stanley Fish. It’s specifically about how Liberals don’t respect beliefs that are grounded in religion. Ie., people who would introduce faith based values into civic spaces. He argues that when making communal decisions, liberals don't recognize faith based values as evidence, so they don't really let them into the argument.
  4. This is perhaps the most important nuance of this model. The basic idea is that we have a set of beliefs that we can't escape, they literally define our world. In this sense, they are objective because it is the most fundamental type of evidence that we can appeal to (our experience). So our beliefs are in a sense, always objective because they can't be anything else.
  5. This is to be further detailed in a later work. I believe that the differences here are due in part to us having “limited worlds”. In a sense, we can’t access everything, everything is mediated by and limited to what we can perceive. What we believe in or take away from certain situations can be different than what someone else does because of these limited perceptions. Importantly, this limited world becomes our “history” and we use this history to interpret the present. So people can interpret things differently depending on their experiences.
  6. One thing that has become obvious to me when watching two sides of an incommensurable debate is that both parties use the same language about each other! “They’re stupid, they’re crazy, don’t they understand...”… So name calling, derision, and a condescending attitude are useless in these situations. Neither side wants to concede their beliefs... why should they, that's their world that we're talking about.


Learnt a new word today - thanks for the sharing of the definition of sonder.

I think we all have confirmation bias as well as overestimation of the validity of our own beliefs.

lol you said it better than I did. I think I might use that 😂

Thanks for checking it out!

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What a brilliant piece of writing, and many kudos to you for putting this out there! I was not familar with the word sonder, but was taught as a child to imagine the lives of others in such a way to foster empathy, and am very grateful for having had that training. I agree that lack of communication — or lack of empathy — is responsible for many of our problems in this world. Thank you for a most wonderful and thoughtful post!

With the mere change of the #blog tag to #thoughtfuldailypost, this could easily be an entry into @wesphilbin's effort to encourage more positive, inspirational posts on the blockchain! Whether you edit the post to do that or not, "Bravo!" for this fabulous musing!

Thank you!! Yea it’s something that’s still hard for me to do, especially when someone has an opinion that’s so different for my own.

I really appreciate the kind words and I made the tag edit as suggested! 😊

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aw a superb post, well forth the wait ;)

It’s no secret that we’re facing a crisis in communication. Even though we have mass communication on a global scale, we still don’t know how to communicate with people who have radically different values…

you nailed it with this, is staggering , how bad people are about talking to others, i fidn they often talk to respond, not actually heraing the other person.. I do noot just see this in people with oposit value/intrest thow :)

yea this can be a problem with anyone anytime! It’s just easy to see with “incommensurable” beliefs. I think the hard part though is that when you start listening, they can be saying things that just don’t make sense to you, and it’s really hard to see how those beliefs can have value.

I really appreciate you checking it out! 😊

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i fidn taht its a matter of perception of said thing, if you dont understand the others side, or have the emphty to see their point..
Yeah i im with you....
It was my pleasure hun , super post :D

Interesting article, I agree with how each person is seeing the other subjectively and how we struggle to empathise or communicate well. Where does this word sonder originate? In Afrikaans it means "without" as in the French "sans".

I’m not even sure it’s actually a widely recognized word. It’s a word created by this group called the dictionary of obscure sorrows. Luckily I came across it randomly when I was doing my studies.

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People are just to sensitive these days. Quite some time ago we had an expression 'sticks and stones will hurt me, but words won't', not true since around 10 to 20 years.

Totally agree! But also, I think there’s a little more to the issue. I think that recently, we’ve really stopped caring about other people’s experiences, and we’ve stopped listening and believing them. (We tend to force our own interpretation of experiences onto people)

  • you’ve probably seen this when people on the left write posts about “peace and liberty” but also, are openly hostile to anyone who goes against them.

Thanks for checking it out!😊

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I try to listen and really understand but it is tough. Politics and religion are really the worst places to start. For example I used to like the green party until they got coopted by the left and started saying poverty pollutes...okay maybe under very narrow circumstances. There is just too much of an obvious agenda and often they don't want their listener to see the clear picture. I think it's a type of propaganda.

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We can't leave the effects of social media out of the discussion. And it is still a relatively new thing, but it's being weaponized, IMO. Social media is where the most hate and division is conceived and birthed. It is hate's breeding ground.

And it's certainly not all innocent "actors" there.

I’m amazed at how poorly and ignorantly we treat people in the news (Iran, Mexico, etc)... anything that doesn’t super align with the western agenda.

I’ve definitely learned to be super cautious. I find so often that learning about the things we talk about in the news are so radically different than what’s reported. So idk... ☹️

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Very good post @mastersa. One major theme of my writings are our
ONENESS, which is a difficult concept for many, if not most to really
Take in.
Thank you for putting this all down so eloquently.

This is a pretty new concept for me as well, but it seems like it’s the best way forward. All the other options just end up with fighting.

I look forward to seeing some of those writings. 😊

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I saw that you'd followed me, as I have now followed you.
You don't seem to post very often. If that's your way,
That you don't post unless you have something to
Say, I like it. Since being here in Steemit, I have
Been posting (mostly) from my 'portfolio' of
Saved works, but I believe most have now
Been posted. With all the crazy stuff in
My life these days (I just went thru a
Complete right hip replacement)
And am now actively looking
For a new and better apt to
Live in, I just haven't been
Able to write much new
Material. You'd think I
Would find some
Inspiration in
All that.

I have read your post.
Well ... it was boring at the beginning then the direction of writing becomes az a driving force to enjoy the balance of the post.

I liked it

Resteemed and upvoted


hehe well I appreciate you sticking with it! Thanks😊

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Excellent piece.

Enjoyed it immensely.

BTW, speaking of true communication, here's something I posted awhile back about it. I think you'll like it:


May and yours be well and love today.

Namaste, JaiChai

That piece is really good! I like the part where you suggest that the onus of communication is on you... I think that’s great and it’s definitely what I’m after here.

I think part of the problem though is that current theory suggests that we should always be able to understand the other person... theoretically. Some people (Donald Davidson for example) have championed this belief. They say we can always “argue” as long as we use the right evidence.

I want to be careful when you say that it’s all about listening to the other person because this has been used to sort of diminish the experience of the person that you’re arguing with (by assuming from the get-go that your beliefs are somehow the correct ones). Listening is of course necessary, but I also don’t have the expectation that we will always be able to understand the other person. Sometimes we just need to believe in the validity (and the history) of their beliefs in order to make any progress. So of course listening is important, but so is being able to understand the limited-ness of your own position😊

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Well put, indeed!

Namaste, JaiChai

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An excellent post! I have been conversing with some of my friends lately about some of these issues, specifically about empathy. One shared with us a theory from a book she is reading about conversation. One of the things that stuck out to her was that people who are on social media more and have less in person interaction have less empathy and a harder time reading emotions of others. There really is so much division in the world today, so any tools we can use to start coming together more and understanding that we have more similarities than differences are ones we should definitely explore! I look forward to reading more of your posts about this!

That’s a really good point! It just seems to me like our disagreements are becoming more serious than they’ve ever been. People are picking sides and anger/resentment is at an all time high. I didn’t really think to correlate it with time spent online!

  • I have seen some good research that shows that people who play online games together (like call of duty or something) actually have less prejudice and racial bias.

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Come to think of it, I would be really curious how the research differs depending upon where you spend your online time. I think my horizons have opened a lot since being on here because I now interact more with people all over the world, not just those in my small sphere. Though I would still think you need to have a balance between screen time and face time to be well-rounded in your communication skills. Interesting stuff, for sure.


I feel you 🙏

Much Love 💞

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