It takes us a while to acknowledge that other people are equally sophisticated and unique as ourselves. There’s a term for that: sonder. The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows describes it as:
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.
This is far from a sorrow though. It’s exhilarating.
I kept a journal through most of my teenage years and I have painful records of a time when my audacity knew no bounds. Either that, or my grungy writing magnified whatever little vanity I had. Here’s what I wrote in 2007 after reading A Tale of Two Cities for the first time:
Is it natural to feel more connected with a fictional person who lived hundreds of years ago than with the ones who share a classroom with me? Everyone around seems so busy with their small talk and their petty lives. I wonder if they ever think of anything other than gossip or crushes or wrestling. None of my friends have ever read a book outside our curriculum! Is that normal? It feels like there is no one with whom I can have a proper conversation with.
The mentioned fictional person is Sydney Carton and if you have read A Tale of Two Cities you’d know that it is slightly problematic if a 13-year-old relates to such a character. But moving on.
A letter to my past: (John Green style)
You never fail to disappoint! As if it’s not bad enough that you keep whining about silly issues for hundreds of pages, now you also have to be condescending towards your peers? You can’t just frame small talk as inferior just because you suck at it. Small talk holds friendships together. How boring would life be if all everyone ever talked about were stuff of importance! Of course there’s always a need for those deeper conversations, however, it is their rarity and intimacy that makes them special. Sadly, you won’t ever develop much skill for small talk (at least in the next 8 years) but there will be people willing to look past that.
Never for a second doubt whether someone has thoughts hidden away that are not about “gossip or crushes or wrestling”. Also, it is perfectly fine if people don’t like to read. You’ll meet ones who don’t read much and yet have more knowledge and skill and ingenuity than you in almost every aspect of life. Treat reading like what it is, a hobby; an useful one, but just a hobby nevertheless.
Heck, you’re only 13 years old. I guess you are allowed to be an arrogant little jerk. It’s cute how you wrote down everything in a journal thinking that no one will ever read it or judge you over it. Guess what? I judge you very much!
Well, I did mention that we require some time to start taking others seriously. (By the way, the ‘we’ is mostly extrapolated from ‘I’, since that’s the only data available to me.) Fast-forwarding to a time when I wasn’t 13 years old anymore. In 2011, I wrote (in a pretentiously matter-of-fact tone):
The matter of whether humans are inherently good or inherently evil might remain unsettled but it should be acknowledged and appreciated that we are an extraordinarily intelligent and creative species. One just has to look around, into our art and science and literature, to be awed at what we have accomplished. It may feel underwhelming as we are born into a world where there are 7 billion of us while only a few actually seem to create progress. This thought is misleading. Each of us contribute by providing competition, manpower, market; we create a system where the people at the top are celebrated and encouraged. That would not have been possible if the majority of us failed to recognize genius. Each of us have acquired a powerful brain. The opportunity to possess such an extraordinary tool and to walk among such complex individuals is nothing short of a privilege, and therein lies my reason to live.
I still hold onto that belief!