Realizing “that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own”

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.
The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

That beautiful definition above — of an often overlooked aspect of life — caught my eye when I first saw it. I wonder — how can you make people realize this basic fact of life?

I don’t know, but perhaps writing down everything that concerns you at the moment, every doubt, every fear, every hope is a way to achieve it (hint: use paper and burn it after writing). Externalizing what you feel at the moment and then realizing that this is how almost every human being on this planet feels. Not the same items, but roughly the same number and many of the same emotions.

At least for a moment it might bring this awareness, before it vanishes in the usual stream of consciousness. That everyday living where other people are only the foils or assistants in our lives.

What do you think?


  1. It’s something that everyone knows, we all know that other people exist and have lives, but it’s the complexity of those lives. The sudden…realization, is a way to put it but not quite, that other people get up, think random thoughts, speak to others and feel something that you’ve felt before but at different points in their lives and most of the time in no connection with you. That is what I feel every once in a while when I’m walking down the street. Words cannot accurately describe this feeling of “realization”.

  2. It’s an epiphany of thought; an enlargement of the mind and of one’s awareness. I’ve experienced the epiphany periodically since I was very young, probably around six (I was a weird child. Now I’m a weird adult) and I can honestly say that epiphany feeling stays with me for about 3-4 days, and then it passes out of thought again until the next time. Every time it comes up again, it’s just as extraordinary as the first time I had the realization.

  3. I have this realization almost everyday, I know in my subconscious that everyone has an intricate life just like mine, but whenever I’m left to my thoughts, bored, in a particularly observative mood, or walking alone this is what my mind wanders to. It always hits me like a ton of bricks, this is life, Everyone has one. It’s a very humbling moment.

  4. I’m thinking it’s because we are constantly working on so many things in our own lives, that we don’t zoom out to think about other people’s objectives/wants/complex lives as we walk pass them down busy streets. When we are not so occupied with solving problems of our own – such as when we’re sitting on the beach with nothing to do on an island getaway, or when we retire – that’s when we likely start noticing and thinking about other people’s lives.

  5. To think this way, or have these insightful realizations and perspectives on daily life, is one good way to allow your inner-thought & feelings to be uplifted and distilled from anxious thoughts and distractions. When thoughts & feelings are uplifted, our output of body and verbal language is sharpened and our ‘genuine character’ is better revealed. This is the character that, doesn’t only have to aimlessly search for “happiness”, but is able to achieve and live purposefully and passionately by any means of the authentic higher states of mind.

    So sonder away!

  6. I feel like it’s such a shocking thing sometimes, cause if you think about it, we’re each the main character in our own story, and everyone else is just a supporting role, and all those people that you pass on the streets are just that: people that you pass on the streets, with no name or backstory, basically meaningless in relation to your life, but even though they never touch your life, they’ll touch tens, maybe hundreds, and who knows maybe even thousands of other lives, and maybe you’ll never know any of these people either. There are complete networks of stories that you will never even know existed because you didn’t strike up a conversation with that person in line behind you in the grocery store, complete series written by friends that will never be published in your eyes, there is a chapter for every person on this planet that you’ll never read, that you’ll never even consider reading because oh, it’s just another random person standing on the subway next to me. And sometimes you may not even see that person, because they are in a car going the opposite direction on a freeway, and you see their car for half a second and then you are gone from their life forever. These nameless, faceless people all have a story to tell, one as in-depth and complicated as your own. We all share the same struggles, the same dreams, the same victories and defeats at some point in our lives, yet we never connect through these things, because we will never know that the other learned from this, suffered from this, smiled because of this. As humans, we will never know one another, we will never understand one another to the level that we know and understand ourselves.

  7. Whenever I feel like this, I feel extremely overwhelmed and anxious. I sort of going into another spiral in which I begin to think about all the secrets in the world and all the shit I don’t know and it drives me almost crazy. It’s like I just need to know so bad and I’m so curious about what’s out there like once I start thinking about how there is other people out there with thoughts and lives I start wondering about how weird everything is like everything we do is weird and we’re on this floating planet?? In space? With other shit out there? What the fuck I don’t know I get into my head and it is very overwhelming lol does anyone else feel like this

  8. I feel the same exact way Mel. Everything is so mysterious and unlikely, but it happens to just “be”.

  9. I was watching a movie on Netflix and scrolling through my phone intermittently when I came across this word somewhere online and images immediately flashed through my mind. As the word and its definition tri ed d to seek understanding and placement in my mind the images began to slow down and rocked lightly like a boat that stayed intact near the dock after a storm. I laid with the word while the movie played absentmindedly in the background. I thought about my childhood and my life with the countless people I’ve interacts with in my 42 years of existence. People mulling about touching my life in various degrees of time and space.

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