How small talk can form lasting relationships
For those of us who dread chit chat about the details of potty training. For those of us who cannot handle discussing the weather when there are real, deep issues (the election! our life purposes! how I feel about my children getting older!) to talk about.
Here’s what I’ve learned about small talk and why engaging in it is sometimes the most hospitable thing I can do.
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I dread small talk. In my mid-twenties, soon after I got married, I entered the grown-up world of cocktail parties, where I inwardly groaned over the inevitable conversational effort that would be required of me. I always felt that my husband had a magical gift that allowed him to be pulled into exciting conversations about theology or good books, while I always found myself in the corner, trapped in a back and forth over the latest episode of The Bachelorette. I wanted to talk about important things.
I had an itch to change the discussion to what I considered “real.” I wanted to interrupt the Will Krista and Ryan last as a couple? talk with So, how is your relationship with your mother? Have you ever struggled with depression? Do you ever worry that you’re completely missing out on the one thing you were created to do with your life?
Thankfully, I never did blurt out those questions on unsuspecting party-goers. Thankfully, time has taught me that “real” doesn’t always mean sincere. Time has taught me that sometimes small talk is actually the most generous path to take in conversation.
Ten years later, I now understand more about the way I interact with the world. It’s natural for me to spend a lot of my interior life contemplating big things: death, pain, suffering. This is not necessarily the way people around me spend their idle moments. That doesn’t mean I’m special or extra deep. In fact, it often means that I’m haughty and judgmental. My natural tendency to think about “Sad Things” is the part of me that makes me a writer. The fact that it’s not hard to go deep is part of the gift I have to offer to the world. (It’s also the part that drives my fun-loving husband crazy!)
This understanding has helped me a lot when thinking about why sitting in a circle discussing when babies should nap or the latest Hollywood couple to go bust gives me the heebie-jeebies. But it’s also helped me understand that getting past my tendency to get the small-talk-hives is healthy, and more importantly, a step toward generosity.