• Dean Middleburgh

Everyone is Climbing Their Own Ladder

One of my favourite words and how it ties into everyday life

One of my favourite words in the English language is the word sonder. It doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but its meaning and concept, given enough thought, can take you down a rabbit hole.

The definition of sonder:

"The realisation 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."

How did you feel when you read the definition above? For many people, it is a touching moment that allows you to leave the confines of your head and journey into the lives of those you will never meet. Eyes you will never see, stories you will never hear, and lives you will never know.

We know how complex and delicate our lives are. Still, sometimes, we can easily forget that the rest of the population is going through trials and tribulations as they grapple with the unpredictable and often turbulent nature of the beast we call life.

In this way, everyone is climbing their own ladder.

This notion is essential to comprehend, especially when we communicate, interact, and work with people every day of our lives. Unfortunately, sometimes we are so entangled in our worries, problems, and thoughts that we can lose sight of our behaviour towards people. As a result, we are quick to judge, discredit, and stereotype through our own biases of the world we have developed since we were kids on the playground.

Could this simple term: 'sonder' help us reset and cause a circuit breaker, to remind us we have no idea what is happening in another person's world? Are we culpable for doing the following two things?

1) treat people as a blank wall and project our thoughts and feelings onto them, believing we are mind readers


2) take little notice and assume that they are merely just an 'extra' who has no lines and is just here to make up the numbers and fill the space.

Both scenarios are usually unhelpful and can significantly affect how you approach and interact with these people. We can invent our own stories about what that person is in a mood and has a face like a smacked arse, or we label how they act based on their current behaviour. Rarely would we manage our own emotions and step away from being the star of our movie and take a pew in the director's chair.

From this vantage point, we might see the scene from a different perspective. It could give us the space and time to step into someone else's life for the briefest moments to get a feel for what it is to be them.

They could have dying relatives, a sick friend, money worries, and marriage trouble. Some might feel unable to speak up about their sexual orientation, prisoners to their thoughts, in a labyrinth they don't know how to escape.

Despite everyone's ladder and the predicaments we face, we can lose sight of how these internal and external factors are playing havoc with people's emotions and how they act.

In a fast and frantic world, showing compassion and having the ability to look beyond your window and see a horizon you share could make a massive difference in someone's life. In a population close to seven billion, we are a part of a diverse and intricate network where it is more beneficial to know each of us has an important role to play.

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