When I first considered today’s prompt, causal, I quickly thought of casual conversations and the small talk it usually entails. And then I shuddered, because I find small talk to be difficult on many levels. I struggle to think of things to say. It takes a very conscious, concerted effort to answer the common “How are you?” or “What’s new with you?” on the same level of interest it is typically asked. The process of whittling down how I truly am to the “Pretty well” they are expecting takes more energy than it usually feels worth.
A few thoughts I’ve had about small talk:
Why do people ask me these things if don’t want to truly know? Can’t we come up with a different form of causal talk? And why is it so easy for some people? Don’t they care about being honest and speaking accurately about their lives? Why do we have to play these communication games? Don’t we have better things to talk about in our short time together on this earth? Don’t they see all of the important things going on in the world that we should discuss? Are they even in touch with themselves? Do they even think?
Judgement is allll over my dislike of small talk.
Now, I firmly believe that there are a group of us humans that simply aren’t wired to engage things like small talk with ease or grace without some intentional practice. We spend much of our time thinking with a depth, seriousness and often heaviness that makes small talk far more work than it’s meant to be. For others, perhaps they don’t see the point in talking about the weather/price of gas/score of last night’s game as a precursor to the topic everyone is actually there to talk about. Introversion is certainly a contributing factor for many of us that don’t “do” small talk very well. And I’m sure there are many other valid, understandable reasons to not be a fan of it.
But I would bet I’m not alone in hopping on the judgement train regarding the prevalence of casual, small talk in our culture.
If someone is trying to engage you in small talk, it does not mean they are shallow, unintentional, uncaring, unthinking, silly, insensitive, or any of the other things you or I may try an attach to them. They are, simply, saying the things our culture has identified as safe, easy topics to engage another human with. Perhaps they love a deep conversation just as much (or more!) as you do. Perhaps they’ve read more books or listened to more thought-provoking pod casts than you. Perhaps they are tired from work or caring for family or insomnia and while they would love to have a more “meaningful” conversation, they just can’t. Or, most likely, they are just doing what is normal in our culture for whatever setting you are in and it has nothing to do with their depth or characteristics as a person.
The judgement train never travels anyplace worth spending our time. Too often, our judgement of “meaningless” small talk causes us to miss out on the meaningful person sitting or standing across from us. So what if small talk isn’t your favorite! If the person engaging you is worth your attention, converse with them in a way that is accessible for you both. Come up with a handful of questions that strike a balance between “What’s up?” and “What’s the meaning of your life?” so that you can contribute to a casual conversation in a way that reflects your personality and values without weighing things down too much.
What questions can we ask that will allow casual conversations to be more palatable for those of us uncomfortable with small talk? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below.
Daily Prompt Casual