Georgia’s College Essay: On Sonder
Georgia is an alum of our high school Service program in Morocco. She wrote about her experience, and the concept of sonder as it applies to daily life, for her college admissions essay. This fall, Georgia will be attending the University of Denver to study environmental science.
* * *
From daily small talk, to interviews and deep conversations, I have become deeply captivated by the concept of sonder. Sonder is the feeling of realizing every person making up the world has a life just as complex as your own. Most people would agree that it’s not common to imagine the life and beliefs behind every passing person, but if we are all experiencing the universe in our own way, shouldn’t it be important to understand and learn about each other?
A few months ago, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to go to Morocco. I met so many different people, each with their own incredible stories, and I made an effort to see everyone as more than just a passing face. In the village of Zawiya Ahansal, I visited a home where a women’s cooperative was hosted. I sat down with two beautiful Berber girls, Layla (16) and Jamila (18), a translator, and a notepad to share their stories. They had both worked in the cooperative for almost six years, encouraging other kids to pursue education. The girls told me that in the next year they were going to university to study botany. If their family had not let them leave for higher education, they would have been assigned a husband to marry. Neither of them wanted to seal their independence, but let it expand. I had no idea the stories they carried at such a young age. From an outside perspective, they were just members of a women’s cooperative, though my curiosity brought me to see an important side to their complex lives.
I have also found that judgment is increasingly common when people are ignorant to sonder and what another person could be going through. This ignorance does not necessarily have cruel intention, but oblivion does not benefit anyone.
While reflecting on this idea, I have come to realize many of my own experiences impacted by the lack of awareness and acknowledgement of the lives of others. I remember a time in 5th grade when my teacher singled me out for not participating in class. I had been zoning out the entire day, focusing on anything but school, from the dirt built up under my desk, to the fluorescent yellow on the goldfinch outside our classroom window. I assume in her mind, it was frustrating to look at my distracted gaze, but she had no idea of the life going on behind those glossy eyes. That week I had moved out of my house, leaving behind my dad and dog. As a 10-year-old, I was trying to wrap my head around the situation, so school was the least of my worries. Getting ridiculed by yet another adult I wanted to look up to, was the cherry on top.
In that moment, I told myself I hated her. I hated her for not understanding. I hated her for making me feel like a disappointment. But how could she have known? I asked myself that same question when I found out a few months later that she was diagnosed with Stage 4 Breast Cancer around the same time. Humans are constantly busy with their own complex lives, no one has the time to understand everyone’s whole story, but just acknowledging that there is one is just as important. As guru Ram Dass states “Learning to appreciate your predicament and their predicament with an open heart instead of judging allows yourself and others to just be, without separation.” We can grow as a human race if we learn to see past a one-sided face and recognize an outside life.