8.5 Min Read
Were I to become the next prime minister of Canada, or the next chancellor of Germany, or the next monarch of Great Britain, or the next dictator of the United States of America, I would outlaw small talk in public spaces and legislate against it in private spaces.
I’ve been a victim and a perpetrator of small talk. I mean who hasn’t?
“Hey, how are you?”
“Good. How are you?”
Awkward silence. An ugly baby is born, named Karen, or Chad; the child will later invent the country-disco-folk-trap genre. Unfathomable. Unacceptable!
And on we go with our day.
Why do we put ourselves through such torturous social interactions every single day? Multiple times a day.
And to be fair, I’m also part of the problem. I’m a liar. A convicted, warrant out for my arrest, liar. I have asked people how they are doing but deep down inside, I don’t care.
Do you want to know why I lie and ask people how they are doing?
It’s because I dread the awkward silence that comes along when you ask them about something and they mumble something flat like, “Living the dream!” or “Good!” in response. Something unimaginatively boring. And then they stand there waiting for you to ask them how their weekend went, how their kid’s birthday party was (no one really cares about your kid’s birthday party by the way), or how their speaking engagement at the city’s newest pyramid scheme-cult went.
I don’t really care, not because I’m heartless or crass but because I know your response will be so boring, so common, so normal, so short, and so pointless. So forgettable. It’s criminal, really.
Example One: The Retorter
(This individual is usually caught off guard by your intrusion into their boring thoughts about their boring schedule for the day. He walks about with a donut or a hotdog, or a donut-hotdog hybrid meal in one hand and mug-o-coffee in the other.)
Jarrel: So, how was your weekend?
Coworker: Oh, good? Yours? *Takes a bite out of his hybrid meal, fails to pause long enough for a response and walks away*
THIS SHOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED PEOPLE
Example Two: The Walking Dead
Also known as The Callous German or just German in Germany. Usually retired. Usually tired. May, may not have been a defendant during the Nuremberg Trials or is just a typical Florida man/woman.)
Jarrel: So, how are you doing?”
TWD: *Acknowledges your existence, makes some kind of animalistic gesture, bobs their head up and down and then walks away*
Jarrel: Sighs, deeper. *Calls Mossad*
THIS SHOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED PEOPLE
Example Three: The Lavatory Specialist
(Also known as, Mid-Flush Conversationalist or Mr. All Water-No Soap. This individual is poised by the opportunity to engage anyone who enters the loo in a thoughtful, life-transforming conversation, independent of what the person has gone in there for or how quickly they intend to take care of their business once there. It doesn’t matter. Whether the Specialist is sitting on a porcelain throne or gesticulating over a sink, to make someone think they’re washing their hands; they’re not. They’ll ask lengthy questions, expect lengthy and articulate responses, and will even flush mid-conversation.)
Jarrel: *innocently walks into restroom*
TLS, inside a stall: Well, hello there, friend. How’re you doing on this lovely day?
Jarrel: *hesitates, then proceeds with a grimace* Hey, hi. Yeah. I’m… I’m cool. You? *Regrets this immediately*
TLS: *Touchless flush system activates* Welp, I’m glad you asked. *Relinks belt buckle, the door unlocks and out of the pit of solace emanates an acrid stench. He hovers through the mist and continues* I’m going to tell you about my weekend, my camping trip, how much fun I had at my grandson’s birthday party, and I’m going to teach you how to tie a fisherman’s knot. But before I do that, tell me how you feel about life in general. *Plays with fingers under the touchless faucet, his hands never come into contact with the water streaming from it*
Jarrel: *Forgets why he entered the restroom in the first place. Leans on the counter. Crosses arms* You know what, I’m sick and tired of our capitalist-socialist dichotomous system because….
THIS SHOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED PEOPLE
Come on. Like, seriously. We can do better.
I’ve worked in places where I have been both blessed and cursed with these interactions. I’ve been a barista, a medical assistant, a cleaner, a busser, a youth leader, Sunday school teacher, and an administrator. I speak from a place of experience when it comes to dealing with the ills of small talk.
Small talk does more damage to the image of the people involved in it than you can imagine.
I’ve had people approach me, stop mid-stride just to tell me I look dangerous. When asked to elaborate on why they thought that they couldn’t come up with an explanation!
In another situation I’ve had someone inform me that I looked like a beast (Look at you standing back there. You look like a beast!) I was standing behind my stand-up desk. I was wearing a black shirt and dark green khakis. I’m a dad, I can get away with wearing these. Hair was not protruding from my neck and cheeks and my nails were trimmed. That person didn’t elaborate either.
In another situation, someone asked me if I knew how to Dougie.
People, just to clarify, I do not know how to Dougie. I’ve YouTubed the tutorial for this dance and it’s harder for me to do than it is for me to follow Michael Jackson’s footwork in the Thriller music video. I’m challenged. That much I know.
And this same person seemed shocked by revelation! And I was also shocked that they would assume I would know how to Dougie because I’m…. bl… yeah… not going there on this one. Next one maybe.
But what I’m saying is that small talk can turn a bigot into an ignoramus nutcase or an innocent, albeit ingorant statement, said on the fly into a lawsuit.
We need to cool down, slow our pace, focus on people, and their concerns. We need to slow down so we can hear questions, intonations, speculations, mastications, so we can listen and not misunderstand or misconstrue one another.
Small talk is damnable. It creates an uncomfortable aura we’re forced to live in forever! We avoid certain individuals because we’ve encountered them in one of these small talk moments and because that experience was a bad one we never want to see them again.
My solution is simple. Very simple. So simple the world may just avoid another war. So simple we can avoid re-electing an orange man into office. So simple we can avoid electing a child-sniffer into office.
People. This can work. Here it is.
Yes. It’s that simple. We outlaw small talk. It becomes taboo. The unspoken disaster of a distant past. It’s the uncle in jail we don’t talk about.
But Big Talk is a two-part solution.
Shut up. Shut-in. And keep walking. No eye contact. Become the introvert your negligent parents have made you out to be. You’re not concerned about social interactions with coworkers or human-beings in general.
This is best suited for individuals who live in Canada in wintertime, people who have never traveled outside of their hometown, people whose circle of friends is not diverse or cultured, and people who need coffee or whatever that stuff is in their mug in the morning for them to function properly before interacting with others.
Slow down. Open up. Before you assume, ask. Wait, in silence. Stare around a bit if you seem lost. That’s fine. But relax. That “project” you have to get to will be postponed anyway. Hey, oil prices are low, COVID-19 numbers are up and chances are that donut-hotdog hybrid breakfast you’re so fond of or E. coli are probably going to kill you soon, anyway.
So relax. Slow down. Meet people. Really meet them.
I’ve met delivery drivers, businessmen, businesswomen, travelers from Germany, Holland, Brazil, Colombia, Italy, Nigeria, Iran, Russia, Korea, Japan, India, Greece, Jamaica, lawyers, police officers, steroid abusers, and South Africans of Dutch descent who are in favor of a new and more segregated apartheid in their country.
I’ve been blessed to meet authors, plastic surgeons, watch collectors, builders, CEO’s, engineers, cashiers, entrepreneurs, intellectuals, philosophers, statisticians, accountants, artists, and sculptures-to-be.
From the echelon of university professors who use multisyllabic words I have never heard before to easy-going farmers who care more about an animal or a crop than any of us ever would!
These are people worth listening to. Moments like these are worth experiencing. Conversations worth treasuring. Memories worth memorializing.
All because two or more individuals decided to slow their pace and share. Share from their heart. At length at times.
And I believe that if we fail to slow down so that we actually listen to one another, if we fail to go from small talk to Big Talk we’ll keep on making mistakes, sending young men to die in wars old men have procured. We’ll go on creating and recreating cults, cliques, factions, sects, and more polarized groups than we can afford. We’ll end up not caring for a person that dies; the one we used to work with, the one we went to school with, the one that we shook hands with that one time, because we didn’t know them well enough to care that they’re gone. There was no depth there.
Small talk removes the deeper and greater aspect of person-to-person interactions that are very much necessary for the development of healthy relationships.
If we fail to outlaw, criminalize, and penalize small talk, we’ll re-elect orange men who grab women by their privates, incite violence at their political rallies, call for the execution of black teenage Americans without knowing, concretely, if these teenagers are guilty of any crime at all. We’ll allow this kind of person to lead a nation, lie to us publicly, privately, and then denounce us when we call them out on their lies.
Big Talk slows the world down so we can see people for who they really are, what they think about things, and why they think the way they do.
Let’s get Big Talk on the move, y’all.
If this works, we might be able to convince The Lavatory Specialist to actually wash his hands with soap and keep his conversations out of the restroom.
While there is life, there is hope.