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The Fear of Small Talk That Transformed Me Forever

While the superficiality of small talks made me a predictably shallow human, I tried small-talking with a twist!

Photo by Daniel Tuttle on Unsplash

Balancing a friendly equation with old friends is increasingly strenuous with accelerating digital equations. I am ever so reluctant on who might be open, to connecting, given my clumsy attempts of connecting. Every day, this pungent feeling of guilt creeps up my spine, saying that I rank last on a friend’s fidelity scale.

While their loss of faith and my guilt COMPOUNDS!

To pull away from the weight of guilt, I WA my friends saying, “Hey! What’s up? How are doing? Oh! Great!”. While each time I am totally mindful of the predictability of the superficial response. What is more, the thread of conversation faces awkward infantile death. Both of us, my friend and I, can’t push the conversation with ‘How are you doing? and how have you been?’. The reflex response, more often than not, is, “Hey I am good, and you?.

Jesus Christ! ( I sigh audibly),while the thread fails, catastrophically.

Enter the digital awkwardness! This message was deleted.

(Holy God! NO! I again scream inwardly for being such a shallow, dumb mutton-head, to fail asking just a small question like, “Hey what are you reading these days?” Or anything open ended. Maybe there were better chances of meaningful conversation).

Then I dwell in self-created regret.

Being a selective ambivert, and inclined towards introverts on the spectrum, often I end up in the small talk, with a trace of guilt on being shallow, and murdering the prospect of something great, that could’ve materialized.

Imagine missing out on the real world and its fascinating stories only because you are hesitant. Probably a small question may open up stories that would’ve remained unsaid forever. But for this, small talks can be a warm up to create human connections.

While I am mostly unfit for the group discussion, Yet I ideally fit on the Dais to talk before a crowd. But small talk is always traumatic. (If you can excuse my melodrama of exaggeration, but it’s total chaos in my mind when I fail to find common grounds in one on one conversation. And then in solitude, that more-than-awkward encounter raises its head like a mischievous ghost) Even if a gun-totting alien would ask me a small-talk to save the planet, I WOULD STILL STAMMER! Phew! (Please consider rolling my eyes at the prospect of invasion).

With agenda-driven updates, small talks and masked pleasantries are omnipresent like Gods. And in the course of a hybrid culture of work, the response, “I am good”, is sliced in between, demanding for updates.

Amid this all-too-human culture, and to my horror, I was invited to attend a zoom funeral. Yes! My reflex too was, “Seriously man!”.

Mortified, I turned my video off on zoom. There was a preacher praising the late, and praying to transition his soul in peaceful heaven. Otherwise too, I am not a very great consoler. I have my share of memories, that strain my nerves to make someone feel better at the loss of life. I avoid seeing people who have lost their close family. And this zoom funeral was bliss. I hid behind the comfort of my screen, allowing the funeral participants to know that I was part of their grief. I marked my presence without superficially consoling on loss of life and part-of-gods-plan cliche.

Wow! Indeed super convenient!

But, this entails a story…

Once upon a time, a beautiful young girl met an untimely death, leaving the family sinking in pain. But there were very few people who could stand by the family in the time of loss. And the writer of the piece was one of them. But I brutally chose to ignore the family, I was 19 then. They found it glaringly betraying. I, altogether, cut my ties with them. Never went to share their part of pain. I was clumsy to face them, and clumsier to come up with soothing balmy words. I thought I was useless in their times of utter despair.

After years of that abysmal experience and perpetual regret, I have learned viscerally that you don’t have to make someone feel better in times of loss, but instead make them feel that grief is part of human life and you stand unconditionally by them. But not by superficial words, but by validating their grief, or in that case whatever is demanding.

Given my profession, I come across a diverse set of people, I’ve learned that small talks can brighten up a day, but if asked intentionally to interweave a meaningful social fabric. So, I attach a simple word with my small talk, like initially, I asked, “Hey, how are you doing? I’d rather say, “ Hey, how many times did you smile today? Or how’s your pet doing? or “hey! When you smile a certain way, your eyes sparkle”.

Agreed! We can’t always fill the spaces to ward off the silence, but I certainly believe that, more often than not, small talks help us communicate big trustworthy conversations.

As the art of language has evolved for 2 things. Number 1, to give out the information. And number 2…

What do you think? Are humans only meant to communicate information like robots?

Undeniably NO!

I believe the art of speech might have evolved among our closest cousins(You know them right!!! Wink wink) to reassure, to reject, to cherish, to nurse, to rule, to care, to submit, to beg, to explain, or merely to fill in the clumsy silence.

Sometimes a small talk with correct body language and right gestures says much more than hours of empty gatherings might dare.

Even today, a situation that calls for chitchat churns my nerves with a spatula, but still a small talk is anything but small if used for reaching out to listen. Being instrumental just by intentionally asking, “Hey, how are you today?’ might help someone strengthen their frayed coping mechanism.

So, when Collins Dictionary says that a small talk is a polite conversation about unimportant things, I say it’s a warm up exercise for important connections, if executed empathetically.



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