The old Vietnamese man down the street has lived his own life.

This seemingly obvious fact hits you when you travel. The mere scope of the web of life that surrounds us comes right up in your face when you travel.

John Koenig, the creator of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, coined the term sonder in 2012. According to Koenig, sonder means:

  1. 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.

Travel has been known to bring about sonder. When you’re walking down the road and see an old Vietnamese man walking with his grandson, and you think:

  • He was born in a very different Vietnam than the one he lives in today
  • He was alive during the war. Did he fight in it?
  • What has he done for work?
  • What love, hopes, fears, dreams does he have for his grandchildren?

But most of all you’ll be hit with the realization that you are so lucky to be able to play the smallest role in these peoples’ lives. The luck you have to be able to pass a young Vietnamese guy on your moped, to connect these two points of the web that (depending on your stance on free will) would never in a million years meet…

But sonder can be experienced at home, too. Talk to the old frumpy woman behind the bar, hear her story. Ask the young woman working checkout at JCPenney’s what her dreams are… Just do it in a way that isn’t creepy.

Next week on the No Fugazi Hour, we talk about Deep Talk. How to enrich your relationships and interactions via the simple art of cutting through the small talk.


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