Recently, a friend of mine called me cynical. At first, I found myself disagreeing with her. As the words left her lips, entered my ears, and into my brain, I began to offer a rebuttal; I began to formulate a retort. I got as far as, “yeah, well…” As the seconds waned by, as the time increased between her claim and my reply, I began to realize she was right.
I’m not negative. I don’t dye my hair, sweep it over my eyes and proudly talk about pain like a parent talks about their honor student. That said I’m not the opposite either. I don’t blow sunshine out of my ass, and vomit rainbows and pixie dust. I’d like to think I have a ‘balanced’ view on things, but it’s probably closer to a ‘lukewarm’ life view; not deciding either way and making a stance. I’d rather equally offend everyone in small amounts, than take a stance and offend someone in a meaningful manner.
I realized she was correct when I thought about how much I enjoyed small talk. I enjoy it about as much as I enjoy being on speakerphone; as much as I enjoy doing my taxes; as much as I enjoyed doing chores on a Saturday morning as a child.
Small talk is something my family, and many of my friends, are very good at. My sister is someone who comes to mind that is an absolute master of tiny speaking. She can talk with anyone, about anything, for any amount of time. Her ability to carry a conversation is impressive. I’m the type of person that can keep a conversation going for two, maybe three (on a good day) seconds. For some reason or another, my mind goes blank with information I know about the person.
I am unable to recall anything that is happening in the person’s life, even when there are hints and clues staring me right in the face. A new haircut, different clothing, a happy or sad face, anything to start a conversation, but my mind halts dialogue. A friend, of whom had spent the last nine months pregnant, now has a flat belly. I knew before, and after, the conversation that she’s had a child. Yet while the conversation happens, I stand there not knowing what to say. Options go through my brain: the weather, the nap I took earlier in the day and a rather unpleasant apple I had for breakfast. But her brand new baby?
Nope, nothing. Doesn’t even come up during the conversation. It can eventually, but it’s usually when the person has turned their back and started to walk away. I have to make concerted effort beforehand to talk about it. When I see the person, I have to think to myself, “Ok Nick, let’s go over a few things…” and run through my mind the changes in this person’s life.
My sister though? That woman can remember everything. Like an infinite filing cabinet of seemingly useless information about a person, my sister recalls and recollects who that person is. At the snap of a finger she can engage in small talk with anyone. And it makes them feel great, it’s why everyone adores her, because she cares about everyone she meets.
Perhaps that’s where the true power of small talk resides; easily recollectable memories. A good memory. Not being forgetful. The other day, I went to take out my contacts after a day of work; I kept trying to slide them out only to get frustrated that I could not get them out. After a few minutes of eye poking and swearing under my breath I discovered I had never put them in. This is a daily occurrence for me. I’m the poster child for onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Despite it all, it’s alright. Unlike many things that are flawed of my character, I am ok with being bad at small talk. For me, it doesn’t add any dimension to my life. I feel that’s where the cynicism comes into play.
I probably should get better at small talk, I should engage in it more but I’m not sure I ever will. I guess I feel like it’s just a superficial conversation. It’s a conversation for the sake of having conversation. There’s nothing wrong with it, I don’t resent people because they engage in it, but I don’t really enjoy it.
There’s something to be said about being able to sit in silence with someone. To not fill the empty air with words just because.
Of course that’s all dandy and great to do, but in practice it’s completely different. It’d be awesome if we could exist as humans and be perfectly OK with sitting and enjoying the company of someone’s silence, but that’s not the case. Despite my disdain towards small talk, silence makes even me feel awkward. It feels as though I’m being inadequate as a human being, that I’m not fulfilling my role as acquaintance or friend.
Everyone has a friend that does the opposite. The kind that doesn’t carry on conversation. They don’t ask questions, bring up stories or talk about their day. This wait for you to bring something up, wait for you to provide the catalyst to spark dialogue. And, although that friend may have many redeeming qualities, hanging out with them 1 on 1 is a chore. It’s exhausting.
It’s like scratching their back: at first it’s fine. You enjoy helping the person out. But after a while, you’re hands begin to cramp, your forearms get tired, and most of all, you get bored. You get tired of hearing, ‘a little higher please,’ and ‘I got this itch right above the left shoulder… oh yes right there.’ After a while, you start thinking this is a pretty one sided gig. ‘When are you going to scratch my back?!’ you want to cry out.
But instead you just continue, because there’s no other option. You keep carrying the interaction between the two of you and make a concerted effort to glance at your watch, hoping the person can at least pick up on social cues (they can’t).
So yes, there are benefits to small talk. In fact, I’d say that too much small talk is better than none at all. Not many people enjoy the silence that can exist between a group of people. Heck, we even attribute the sound of crickets as silence; even in comedy or awkward situations, we want to spare ourselves the adverse effects of no noise.
I guess, like all things in life, it’s about balance. Too much silence and people think you’re mundane. Too much talk will cause people to feel left out. It’s about finding the right amount of both things. I’m leaning on the side of silence, but I see the benefit in the latter.
I’m no master of small talk, it doesn’t come easy to me. Until the time comes when the world is OK with nospeak, I’ll have to find other means to not carry conversation. I’ll spend my time stuffing my face with food, and taking exceptionally long sips of drinks in order to sit in silence in a socially acceptable manner. I’ll continue my ‘lukewarm’ philosophy on life and hope people will tag me as quirky or odd, instead of boring and one dimensional