Monday, June 23, 2008

Lip Service

When you’re in an elevator, by a water-cooler, passing in a public venue, or in any number of simple social situations, there is almost always a dreaded practice one must pay: small talk. Now, I am undoubtedly a social creature, but this is one social P&Q that seems like a lot of B-S. If you really think about it, all you’re doing is filling an empty and possibly awkward silence by acknowledging another individual, without actually having to acknowledge them or expend too much of your personal time and/or energy to inquire about anything of substance. It’s a social gesture best performed with the backhand.

For starters, it’s almost always rushed and/or has a definite end. While this may be desired for certain tasks, when it comes to talking to another person, I feel that it should be quite the opposite. True conversation can take up quite a bit of your time, and anyone who doesn’t live in an Amish community knows that time is precious. Therefore, why should one let an inane conversation interrupt his or her grocery shopping, food/drink ordering, or whatever task is truly on your mind when someone walks up and asks something completely vague like ‘what’s up?’ It’s like call waiting that you can’t get rid of. Someone should invent a live caller id. A little alert that will go up and let you know that someone you don’t want to talk to is in proximity and is about to spot you! My true family and friends know that once I get started, it’s hard to shut me up. I believe this is because I want to have a conversation, not a random encounter of formless, substance-less dialogue.

Which brings me to my next point that small-talk is as empty as a Baptist Church Dancehall. If you want to know about the weather, look up or out a window. Asking me what I think about it getting warmer, colder, wetter, windier is as much of a waste of your breath as it is my energy to respond with an emotionless, ‘yeah, sure is.’ I am completely satisfied with a nod and smile or simple ‘hello.’ What makes people think they are obligated to extend the experience with questions that already have an answer? Or, worst case scenario, you ask a simple question expecting an equally simple and short answer, and you just busted open a can of worms that you don’t have the time and/or energy to even begin to stuff back inside. You say, ‘how is your day going?’ And their response is a tale of their personal narrative summing up their horrible day that is equal parts hyperbole and annoying. At this point, your only escape from this story is either a stroke or a meteor falling from the sky. Look what you got yourself into!

More often than not, when I have a conversation with someone, it’s going to mean something or accomplish something. I have set aside the time, invested my interests, and cleared myself of most other distractions. Great conversations happen when you’re lying in bed about to drift off to bed talking to someone on the phone, quietly over a nice big cup of coffee (or glass of wine/cold beer), or a great meal.

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