13 June 2024


What does sonderbodhi mean? And what’s with the circles?

Sonderbodhi is my ethics for life and human relations.
The circles are sort of Venn diagrams to show these human relationships.

However, it would be really hard for me to get into all the meanings that I have for “sonderbodhi”. And it would be impossible for me to summarize how I came up with the symbol, or the plethora of things that it means. Let me try to give you a “brief summary” and we can get into deep philosophical conversations afterwards.


As a kid, I was a very emotional little nugget. I was also raised very conservatively in a Catholic country and by a very united family core that depended on each other. Had I remained that boy, it is very likely that I would have become a highly-sensitive conservative on the right side of the political spectrum (well, if we had money of course). So imagine myself being represented by this fiery red dot.


But as fate would have it, I then spent my teenage years in a rather non-religious (“liberal”) country that valued independence above all (#merica). I also overcame a lot of emotional traumas, and the only way out was for me to reason my way out of them. In other words, I had to swing left further than I was comfortable with, and I had to rely rationally/consciously do all of this. Hence, that part of me could be represented by this cool-headed blue dot.

Those two different points already tell you a lot about sonderbodhi,
but there’s a good chance you already know where I’m headed here.

Now imagine the first time someone asked me “so, which of these two opposites are you? Are you a right-wing, religious, conservative, and emotional Mexican? Or are you a left-wing, atheistic, liberal, and rational American?” Those are genuinely the two identities, the two opposites, that I was forced to ‘choose’ from. Yet I knew that I was neither and both of those things (this is where my both-yet-neither philosophy comes into play). So I couldn’t choose one without betraying the other, and I couldn’t deny one without implicitly favoring the other.

Well, if you’ve read the older About page for this blog, then you should know I am a sucker for neutrality. Genuine neutrality. So rather than choosing between two opposites (non-neutrality) or denying both them (passive neutrality), I lean towards merging them (active neutrality). And in a nutshell, that’s what sonderbodhi is. It is my solution to the ethical debate about whether humans are guided by reason or emotion. It’s not one or the other, it’s both-yet-neither. Call it “rational emotions” or “emotional rationality”. I just hope you get what I mean when I say it’s equally both.


But there is one core element of “sonderbodhi” that is still missing.
The most important element of all is also often missing from philosophical debates: Will.

The Third

Human action cannot be motivated by reason or emotion unless it is, well, active. You might have a certain thought, or feel a certain way, but unless you act, then an abstract platonic thought/feeling is all it is; an idea.


Action is an expression of will, and before I lose you with too much philosophy, the point here is this: whenever we are presented with a choice between two opposites, a binary choice about who we are or what to do, keep in mind there’s always a third choice – the middle path. So when I am asked to choose between one of two things that identify with, I usually choose both, and that creates a third option that brings balance to a bipolar conflict. That’s also why I love the concept of active neutrality.

Sure, some might argue that rather than “creating a third”, I should simply focus on the mixture between the original two because “there is no third”. But picture this like having a child. A merger between an Aztec and a Spaniard. At some point there’s a third “whole” or a “mestizo” that can no longer be defined as a mere combination of the previous two since it is more of an integration of the other two. That’s why I simply cut to the chase and always add a third. A neutral third.

Sonder + Bodhi = Sonderbodhi

Now that I’ve officially lost you with all of my philosophy, imagine that the binary conflict is not just one person (as it was for me). Imagine that the identity in question is not within one person but rather between two people. More specifically, between two minds and two individual perspectives. That’s what bring us to the two components of this made up word.

Sonder – noun – 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— 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 a minor edit from the original, created by “the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows” on tumblr, but feel free to watch THIS video to get a real feel for the word.)

Bodhi – noun -Term which literally means ‘awakening’, but which is commonly translated as ‘enlightenment’. (See also satori; kenshō).

So essentially, try to put those two concepts together:
“everyone has a story” + “awakening/enlightenment”

Ever since I was a kid, and long before I could represent myself as that first red circle, I’ve always wanted to understand my own mind and other people’s minds. Regardless of what color of dot you are or which side of whatever spectrum you find yourself in, we all have a story. That’s sonderbodhi in a nutshell. If it doesn’t make sense yet, well, let’s start talking about it so we can merge your red story and my blue story into a purple one. Or maybe we’ll just start a yellow one. That’s the whole point of this word anyway…


p.s. If you need a final definition and an extra reason to talk/debate all of this rather than asking me for the “quick answer”, I guess I’ll just confess to you that sonderbodhi is ultimately when 2=1. That’s not bad math, it’s just too complicated to summarize into a short blog post, so the formula is the “short version” 😉