One of the biggest problems with trying to define the values of any organisation, is attempting to distil the essence of how you wish to go about your business into just a handful of words. Choose too many and the message becomes diluted and confusing. Choose too few and there is not enough to work with. Seven seemed about right two years ago when we last worked on this. Since then I have harboured a niggle that perhaps we had left something crucial out. And it's true, I have often reflected that if I could, I would perhaps add just one more value...EMPATHY.
And then this week I discovered a new word, SONDER. John Koenig is a graphic designer, editor, and voiceover artist living in Budapest but from Minnesota. His work has been acclaimed by New York Magazine, The Washington Post and The Huffington Post and one of his current projects is creating the dictionary of obscure sorrows which aims to find new words to fill voids in our language. He aims to create words which will give a name to emotions that we all might experience but as yet, don’t yet have a word for. So, I’d like to share with you...
n. 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.
The concept of Sonder resonated with me because it does indeed provide a way for me to express a notion that I’ve often been powerfully aware of but frequently struggled to express. It crystallises for me why empathy is so crucial. When you observe a world where you recognise that each person around you lives a life as complex and vital as your own, suddenly empathy becomes the crucial tool to unpick this and make sense of it. When we recognise that we are not the centre of the world but simply one of many billions of lives, each equally vivid, vital and important, we suddenly understand that developing the skill of seeing the world from the perspective of others will help us to strengthen those connections and engage more meaningfully with other people.
If you have a couple of moments to spare this weekend, you might enjoy this:
John F Gilmour