When you have the power, or are on top, or when everything is going your way, it’s only natural to want to strut. You don’t want to think about a time when you might be powerless, on the bottom, or have the world against you.
That’s a downer, isn’t it?
But that’s exactly where religion urges us to go, to think about the world from other perspectives, to consider what life is like for people without your privilege, to have empathy with the unfortunate. Because, after all, if you were in their shoes, wouldn’t you hope they would look out for you?
Did you know that just the sound of your mother’s voice can be soothing, eliciting chemical reactions in your brain? For a heartwarming example of a baby reacting to her mother’s voice for the first time, watch this video:
Over the years, our mothers are there for the ups and downs of life, offering their advise and comments. Mothers help us to make sense of things, comfort us when we are blue, and prepare us for the future.
What are some pearls of wisdom you learned from your mom? Please share them in the comments.
To get you thinking, consider this delightful list of motherly insights.
Plunging into a good book expands your empathy, takes you to places you’ve never experienced, and lets you walk in the shoes of someone who thinks, acts, and lives in a way different from you. And you can fall in love, again and again, with the perfectly flawed, endearing characters you encounter there. It helps you realize that the world is complex and full of many perspectives and life experiences, that your way is not the only way, that you are one thread in an infinite, glorious tapestry of life.
Reading opens our hearts. There may be no better way to stand in someone else’s shoes and look at the world from their point of view, to understand a life and world experience wholly different from our own. The inevitable result of experiencing the world from someone else’s perspective is empathy. And empathy moves us closer into recognizing our kinship, one and all.
Sonder. A made-up word for a very real emotion. In his Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, John Koenig defines it: “sonder, n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.”
It’s a remarkable realization. We are all the stars of our own lives. We have our supporting casts filled with friends and families, maybe a foe or two, and then a whole world of incidental extras to our story. People behind the lit windows or sitting quiet on a shared bus or in some far off country. When we pause, we realize that they, too, have rich and complex stories filled with their own casts of characters. Their sorrows and joys are as real to them as ours to us.
Koenig has created a remarkable video to illustrate this notion of sonder. And his Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is well worth your time. It is filled with profound insight and wonder.
But what to do with this realization, this feeling of sonder? It creates more than a passing fancy in us, doesn’t it? It leads to looking others in the eyes with respect rather than dismissing them as somehow lesser. It leads us to want to help ease their pain, as we realize that pain is as deep and biting as any we ourselves have felt, maybe even worse. It leads us to reevaluate our own centrality. Yes, we are central to our own stories, by virtue of our limited perspectives. But we don’t need to be bound in the fetters of our own subjectivity. We are central to our own stories, but not to the whole story, the world’s story, humanity’s story. There we are part of a vast cast of players, each at once both the star of their own story, and an extra in someone else’s.
None of us knows what the future holds. But we do know the values we hold dear–honesty, integrity, love, compassion, empathy, respect, tolerance. As we raise our children, we instill these values. As adults, we model these values whether we win or lose, succeed or fail, sink or swim. Watching us, they learn, and, as they go forward into their futures, they will bring these values to their own decisions. If each of us does this, we will leave the world a better brighter place for our having been here.