Small Talk and Civility

I love talking about the weather.  In fact, I just love weather, my least favorite being sunny hot days.  I’m perverse in that way, I know.  But I’ll still talk about it.  I know that talking about the weather is often disparaged, but I think that’s a mistake.  The world needs small talk, if nothing more than to maintain a level of civility that wouldn’t be there if we’re talking about something else.

So it was with dismay that I read a NY Times Modern Love article by Tim Boomer entitled “The End of Small Talk.”  In it, he talks about dating and how he started doing away with small talk, jumping into heavy stuff to start them off.  Admittedly, dating is something I haven’t done in a while, but to me this sounds terrifying.  Diving in with “our weightiest beliefs and most potent fears. . . Questions that reveal who we are and where we want to go” ??  I don’t think so.

Small talk, even though as an introvert I’m not very good at it, is necessary.  Start small, I say, and work up to the big things.  Build trust.  Find common ground.  And if the only common ground you can find is the weather, so be it.  That in and of itself tells you a lot about a person.  By sticking to the weather, one can avoid any number of unpleasantries.

I’m not against big and weighty issues.  God knows (and so do you, if you read my blog) that I don’t shy away from the hard stuff.  But I don’t do this all the time, or with everyone.  It’s not always important to bring up the serious.  It can be a real drag. Or somehow it misses the tenor of the moment.

So in a recent interaction, I didn’t.  I was near a conversation between two friends, in a public space, and it went like this:

Person A:  I can’t believe the Anglican Church now marries gays.  You could see them swishing down the aisle. . .

Later –

Person A:  I taught mostly black kids.  And they were all on their way to jail. . .

So perhaps you can see that a little small talk was in order here.  Something safe, like the fucking weather, and not views on social issues mixed in with a little homophobia and racism.  It would have been a much safer topic of discussion.  And what did I do, you ask?  Good question.  I debated speaking up, but I didn’t.  Perhaps that was wrong of me, but a friend pointed out that a heavy silence can be its own form of condemnation.  I hope so.

Perhaps we need to be a little more afraid of offending people. tornado-8 There seems to be more than enough incivility to go around.