Blogger RTB has written a few posts about small talk recently (http://roots2blossom.wordpress.com/tag/small-talk/) that got me thinking as to why we all seem to struggle so much with this issue. After musing on it for a few days, the answer emerged: it's not small talk that is the problem. The problem is to have to keep doing small talk when you are well past the point of being at that stage with that person. It was RTB's realisation that sometimes there is something such as too much information, that made me think that small talk itself was not the problem. Let me explain:
When you first meet someone (and/or in certain circumstances in public life) small talk is appropriate. But after a certain reasonable time of knowing a person, you should be able to move on to more open discussions. To have to keep doing small talk with people you have known for years isn't natural. It's like playing a board game where you never make it past square one, or like being invited to someone's house for dinner and only being given a starter but never a main meal. From those two scenarios you'd go away bored and hungry, and I think that's what happens at an emotional level when we have those sorts of interactions with people. In a way, it's also like being stuck in "Groundhog Day" (film), with people repeating the same things over and over like a protocol. It also reminds me of the Stepford Wives film. There is a woman I have known for years and both DH and I have noticed how, if we say anything that remotely strays from the "protocol", you can see in her eyes that you've lost her, her brain is starting to "malfunction" and you quickly have to "undo", so she doesn't spontaneously combust ;) Though we always have a laugh about this, I think it's very sad to live your life at that superficial level all the time...
I was recently on a train trip and I took "The Tenant of Widlfell Hall" by Anne Brontë to read with me. I was blown away reading how the main character -Helen Graham- feels exactly how I feel about small talk:
(In this excerpt Helen is having a conversation with Mr. Markham)
'Why have they left you alone?' I (Mr. Markham) asked.
'It is I who have left them,' was the smiling rejoinder. 'I was wearied to death with small talk - nothing wears me out like that. I cannot imagine how they can go on as they do.'
'Is it that they think it a duty to be continually talking,' pursued she: 'and so never pause to think, but fill up with aimless trifles and vain repetitions when subjects of real interest fail to present themselves? - or do they really take a pleasure in such discourse?'
'Very likely they do,' said I; 'their shallow minds can hold no great ideas, and their light heads are carried away by trivialities that would not move a better-furnished skull; - and their only alternative to such discourse is to plunge over head and ears into the slough of scandal - which is their chief delight.'
'Not all of them, surely?' cried the lady, astonished at the bitterness of my remark.
'No, certainly; I exonerate my sister from such degraded tastes - and my mother too, if you included her in your animadversions.'
'I meant no animadversions against any one, and certainly intended no disrespectful allusions to your mother. I have known some sensible persons great adepts in that style of conversation when circumstances impelled them to it; but it is a gift I cannot boast the possession of. I kept up my attention on this occasion as long as I could, but when my powers were exhausted I stole away to seek a few minutes' repose in this quiet walk. I hate talking where there is no exchange of ideas or sentiments, and no good given or received.'
I wouldn't have been able to put it better myself...