Our Sonderous Stories


n. 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.

Remember how I briefly mentioned that I wanted to tell the stories of the people I meet here?  I was going to start the People Profile Project (PPP), but I still didn’t like the name.  Well, the new name of this project is called “Sonderous Stories (SS)”.

Please don’t think about the secret service when you see “SS” because it took forever and a day to come with a name that I like.

Here’s a video about “sonder”:

For the record, “sonder” is not a real English word.  It was invented by John Koenig, who wrote the “Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows“.

But, I was struck by this word: sonder

You can never really appreciate the complexity of the world until you realize that there are over 7 billion lives out there that are just as complicated as yours.

Take a moment to grasp that.

I know I can’t, but I think that’s amazing.

Because there are 7 billion stories out there, each with hundreds of chapters.  And there have been over 100 billion lives that have ever lived on Earth.  And that’s just homo sapiens.  (And what if your feelings have feelings? — just trying to add on to the fact that there are countless of stories to tell.)

Most of these stories never get told.  Some are lucky.  If you have accomplished something great in your lifetime – became President, discovered the cure for polio, theorized about some economic model, sacrificed your life for your country, won gold medals at the Olympics, directed a major motion picture, invented Microsoft, brought the Wizarding World to many muggles who would have never known about it otherwise – people have written about you (or, you’ve written about yourself).  People want to know your story.

But, for most of us, our stories are never told, but I believe, that doesn’t make them any less valuable. (Making a general statement here.)  And I don’t think I’m alone in that statement either, and this is part of the reason why Humans of New York is so popular.  But, I do believe that the more we know of other people’s stories, especially those that are the opposite of us, we can learn to be a little bit more sympathetic of each other.  And sometimes, I feel like we, as human beings, lack sympathy (or, maybe there’s so much to sympathize about that we have to carefully choose what we can actually devote the energy to sympathize for) and empathy (empathizing with others is hard to do).

So, SS is all about… hmmmm… still don’t love this title…

Take two.

Sonderous Stories is my project to tell people’s stories, at least the stories of my friends, who I have met in Cape Town.  I want to tell people’s stories, but also provide a source of the nuances and richness that can be found in Africa.  This is also me trying to combat the myths and misconceptions about Africa.

And I’m excited because through this project, I’ll be able to get to know my friends better.  I have asked a few of them if I could interview them, and no one has denied me so far!  I hope this will keep me accountable (exams are coming up!).  But, I’m feeling positive about this.

Over and out.


PS. I want to share this Ted Talk by Brené Brown about empathy, and the power of vulnerability.  I think it’s worth it to watch, and Brown is also a storyteller.


Update (9 February 2016): I have published some Sonderous Stories by now, and I hope to put out more soon.  To look for them on my blog, click “Sonderous Stories” under “Categories” on the right-hand pane. :)

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