The Much Maligned and Often Underrated Small Talk

I’ve been noticing lately that people have been shitting on small talk. I get that. We live in turbulent times, and often times the weather pales in comparison to the political climate. These are the days of radical slogans emblazoned across T-shirts, protests and picket signs, tweets declaring one side or the other. Who has time for small talk? I want to know where your allegiances stand.

Small talk. Benign. Vapid. Insipid. Perhaps social media has supplanted the need for small talk. I already know how your kids are (seen the pictures), I know you were on vacation (also seen the pictures), and I’m aware of your opinion on the latest Nike ad (already unfollowed you). No need for small talk. No need for talk at all, really. I already know what’s going on without you ever opening your mouth.

But maybe that’s the thing. Maybe the art of small yet cordial human interaction has fallen by the wayside. Perhaps I can admit that maybe I’m not supposed to know about and care about the political convictions of my 1,389 Facebook friends, many of whom I don’t remember how I met. Maybe I’m allowed to have real time cursory relationships with people, and maybe there’s a beauty in that. It’s not that these relationships lack depth. It’s that these relationships by design don’t need depth necessarily. Maybe I’m supposed to be able to function around people who don’t agree with me. Maybe my social interactions with someone who doesn’t agree with me isn’t a life or death matter (unless they’re white supremacists, because: fuck them). What if the great thing about small talk is not its lack of polarization but its ability to be a small act of unification.

Yeah, you’re right, I’d rather talk about anything other than whatever small talk it is we’re having. But I can’t jump straight into my ultra radical comment threads in real life the same why I do on the Internet. Real life requires a bit of pretext. I appreciate that small talk is what leads up to the big talk. The real talk.

Anyone who doesn’t appreciate small talk probably doesn’t appreciate the subtleties of talking about things that have no moral or political context. Tell me about the weather. Tell me about your day. Tell me how you’ve been doing lately. Anyone who doesn’t appreciate the small pleasantries of quick paced communications might not understand the importance of acknowledging each others’ human dignities. Caring doesn’t start with grand gestures. It starts with, “Hello. How are you?”

I get that small talk can be insipid. It can lead nowhere. Small talk can be banal and boring and a waste of time. Small talk can be the distraction before you go do what you really want to do. In bathrooms, on elevators, at work, getting coffee. It’s not particularly important. But, without small talk, who are we?

I truly appreciate all the wonderful conversations I get to have on a daily basis. I’m surrounded by intelligent people who have a lot of interesting things to say. To engage in small talk doesn’t mean that people are necessarily small minded – it means more that our relationships are small, and while that might be fitting in certain contexts, if I want more, I ask for more. I talk more. I talk about bigger things.

Anyone who maligns small talk clearly can’t see the hope that small talk can bring. Solidarity can be built on small talk. Camaraderie can be built on small talk. Community can be built on small talk. Small talk can lead to big things: romance, business, revolution. Whatever your heart desires – it can start with small talk. To be truly creative is to see the potential of small talk, to see all you can accomplish with a, “Hey, what do you think of this?” You could rule with world with small talk. But only if you tried.

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