A Collision of Perspectives

I’ve mentioned in previous essays the idea that people are stuck in their own lives until something brings them out of it. Rachel Carson calls it “ignoring all else.” She says that humans tend to ignore everything in front of them until it’s an immediate concern. TC Boyle’s 1995 edition of the book the Tortilla Curtain shows an example of this when the book starts out with the main character, Delaney, hitting an unexpected Candido with his car. The best part of this book is how the story starts with such an exaggerated life changing event because, in reality, that’s when our own stories start – when we realize something life changing. We wouldn’t be telling it unless it made us change in some way or view something completely different. Delaney is a character stuck in his own world, when suddenly a new world collides with him.

I like this idea of collision. It brings with it the idea of snapping out of where you once were and being thrown into something new. That’s what we need as a society sometimes to understand that there are other perspectives in the world. It’s what we need to understand the beyond human world.

One way we see this in Tortilla Curtain is right after the collision. On page 11, Boyle mentions Delaney’s thoughts of guilt to anger. After seeing all the litter around, he says, “it was people like this Mexican or whatever he was who were responsible, thoughtless people, stupid people, people who wanted to turn the whole world into a garbage dump…” (Boyle 11). This quote shows Delaney’s perspective without any swaying or outside forces to affect him. He soon stops himself and realizes that something has just happened and this is not the time to be closed minded. He realizes that he shouldn’t judge. He doesn’t know this person at all. “Who knew who this man was or what he was doing? Just because he spoke Spanish didn’t make him a criminal. Maybe he was a picnicker, a bird-watcher, a fisherman,” (Boyle 11). This is the moment where Delaney takes himself out of his own thoughts and imagines someone else’s life. The word for this is “sonder.”

Originally from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, sonder is the realization that each random stranger you see is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. Feeling sonder is more than empathy. It’s not just feeling what one person is feeling, instead, it’s what everyone else in the world is feeling, like empathy on a bigger scale. It’s magical – realizing that someone else exists.

Let’s think about that. Imagine that every person you’ve ever seen is living their own life. I know it’s hard to do, because we live in our own lives every day. And that makes sense, we’re the main characters in our life. We only see ourselves everyday. But think about the idea that everyone is living that same complex life. The person sitting next to you has struggled with something at one point in their life. In fact, they might have struggled with something that morning. Or maybe they’re having a great day. Everyone had some sort of a night – they either slept well, or stayed up worrying about something. Maybe they spent the night watching a movie or talking to a friend or doing their favorite hobby.  The person rushing by you on the crosswalk could be on their way to a life changing interview that you don’t even know about. They’re all the stars of their own movie. And they’ve only showed up in your life for a split second.

Now let’s extend that and think that every bird has its own life. It wakes up and has a mission to accomplish every day like we do. Maybe its mission is different, but it exists on this earth just like us. Every bee and every mosquito has its own life. Every fish and every plant. What you’re doing right now is realizing that every living being goes through struggles every day and deals with problems just like you do.  That feeling is sonder.

But what makes you feel this way? What would it take for us to feel sonder? Why do we feel sonder? And should we feel sonder? The biggest question, though, is does everyone feel sonder? If not, why do only certain people feel it? Can we feel it when we’re not feeling like outsiders? Or is it feeling sonder that causes us to feel distant? I don’t know all the answers, but I know that I’ve felt it, sitting in a car when other cars pass by. I’ve felt it in a bookstore when other people are looking for stories to read. I’ve felt it watching movies and watching the storylines of each character. It’s a strange feeling and it’s kind of saddening to realize other people are suffering too. Maybe we need to feel sonder for the world and not just the people. We feel sonder when we feel like an outsider. And it isn’t often that we have time in our busy lives to take a step back and feel that way. As Boyle says on page 32, Delaney has a certain schedule planned unless something interrupts his day. “Unless there was an accident on the freeway or a road crew out picking up or setting down their ubiquitous plastic cones, he would be back at home and sitting at his desk by nine,” (Boyle 32). Most of us live lives like this, where we don’t have time to stop for anything unless we’re forced to. That’s why having certain things come into our lives at inconvenient times are sometimes exactly what we need.

It takes something out of the ordinary colliding with our regular lives to change the way we look at things. Until then, we’re all stuck in our own lives because we don’t have time to think about anything else. Tortilla Curtain is a great example. Some people can get so stuck in their way, that it takes something big to snap them out of it and see that there are other people out there going through the same thing. Reading Tortilla Curtain is one way to snap us out of it.

One thought on “A Collision of Perspectives”

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