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Sonder Explored: Life is a Series of Decisions

Whether it be sitting by the campus pond or my local shopping mall, people watching has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. I have always found it extremely interesting that no matter where you go, everyone you see has a life that is as equally complex as yours is. Everyone has an immense web of people that they know and love, they have responsibilities and relationships and hardships and emotions and everything in between, the same way that you and I do. It truly is an odd concept and takes a great deal of removing yourself from the focal point of your world to truly understand how unique we really are. Recently, I found out that the word for experiencing this existential phenomenon is called sonder. 

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Clearly, I am not the only person who often thinks about the complexities of man, and an account that really validates my interest in the specificities of the lives of those around me is Humans of New York. Though I mostly follow them through their Instagram posts, they have an entire website as well. HONY journalists photograph random people throughout New York City (they now do interviews around the world, but they originated in New York) and then ask them to tell an anecdote about anything they want, giving viewers a tiny glimpse into the lives of strangers. Sometimes, the stories can get pretty emotional, highlighting times of struggle, and other times they become romantic or inspirational, and sometimes, they are just silly. No matter the content of the story, it is so interesting to learn about just a sliver of someone’s life. 

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Whenever I get into this line of thinking, it sends me into a spiral of “What if’s?”. Every choice we make has some kind of consequence, whether we realize it or not. For example, going into my freshman year of college, I got a summer job working with people who have special needs despite having no experience with that population because I desperately needed a job. Little did I know that this job would lead me to change my major to Special Education. I easily could have turned down the offer and never realized where a true passion of mine laid.

Another example I often think about is the various ways in which I met my closest friends, all of which were pretty much by chance. My best friend Casey and I went to different elementary schools and were pen pals which led us to be reintroduced to one another in middle school and the rest is history. What if we were never matched up? This year, I came back to UMass with virtually none of my friends from last year returning with me. Because I was forced to branch out, I have met so many more amazing people this semester. If any of my friends from last year decided to return or if Covid never happened, we probably never would have met. 

I accredit my critical analysis of life and my fellow humans to my Anthropology double major. With every class I have taken, I have learned to closely look at the behaviors and cultures of people around the world. My feelings of sonder are constantly amplified as I learn more and more about the complexities of those who are so different from me that it is almost hard to conceptualize. The practice of reading and analyzing ethnographies throughout my Anthropology course load has taught me so much, but it has really emphasized how random life really is. The fact that I was born in America as opposed to being born in a small village in Thailand is truly just by chance and a myriad of small decisions that led to my arrival. 

Life is full of paths never taken. The chances of meeting the people that we do and forming special bonds are so slim. Every day, I am grateful for the choices that I have made that have led me to where I am right now. At the end of the day, we are all just experiencing life at a rate that is equally as complex and interesting as everyone that you will ever encounter and that in itself is a blessing. 

Kately Martin

U Mass Amherst '23

Kately is junior at UMass Amherst studying Special Education and Anthropology. In her free time, you can find Kately working at Marylou’s Coffee to supplement her caffeine addiction. Kately also works part time at a day program for adults with Intellectual and Developmental disabilities as well as being the Best Buddies President here at UMass! In addition Her Campus, she enjoys running/lifting, hanging out with friends, and journaling!
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