You know the feeling when you're suddenly and unexpectedly confronted with a rude act? Your mouth kind of hangs open. You can feel your blood pressure rise a little bit. And you don't really know what to do. I learned a word the other day - jouska. Well, actually it's a made-up word, but indulge me... Jouska is a hypothetical conversation that you play out in your own head - that witty retort you wish you came up with earlier; the comforting words you wish you said; the succinct analysis you wish you shared. When rudeness strikes, my jouska entails a stern lecture on behaving nicely. It's like my inner Emily Post tries to claw to the surface. Other people's reactions may be different, and a lot less polite.
Which brings me to another made-up-but-should-be real word in today's vocab lesson -sonder. Sonder is the realization that everyone has a story. That everyone's life is just as complex as our own. People have a tendency to be rude to customer service representatives because they lack sonder, especially if the other person is a nameless voice on the other side of the phone line, or an impersonal log-in name on a customer service website. We don't think about who those people are, how their day is going, or how our behavior will affect them. It's a lot easier to stay focused on ourselves, our issues, our time, our problems.
We shouldn't be so self-centered. Sonder is the critical first step to empathy - in order to place ourselves in another person's shoes, we must first acknowledge that other people are indeed as fully human as we are, that their experiences matter. As the Henry David Thoreau quote above suggests, great things come when we try to look through another's eyes. Give it a try. Be gentle with fellow travelers on this earth. They may just beextras in the screenplay of your life, but they have main billing in their own.