On Friday: Do you have plans this weekend?
On Monday: How was your weekend?
The day after a holiday: How was your holiday?
After a vacation: How was your vacation?
Every day: How are you?
My word. My words...lots of them. And none of them have true meaning because we aren't ever really looking for depth in those questions. They're simply social conventions and niceties that we just do. Certainly I'm not suggesting that we dump all the hollow things we say, because they break the ice, open the paths for talking and generally move an eventual conversation along. However, I find it silly and odd that every day friends and coworkers must engage in this kind of vacuousness when we really could just get right to it.
For instance, on a Monday morning we can simply say hello and begin our day. You can trust that, should something noteworthy have happened to me, I'm most likely going to share with you of my own accord. After all, we're friendly coworkers or friends of our own right, and I bet I want you to know. And I may be a doddering old biddy here, but honestly, I probably don't really care about the minutia of your holiday and would rather just skip over the polite pleasantries. Do you really care about mine? The stuffing is my favorite. It's the traditional kind, not oyster and I prefer it to be made outside of the bird.
Dear Lord. Who cares?
I'd rather tell you straight away that I read a great a book and that there is a new red wine I found that will knock your socks off. I'd rather you tell me from the start that there is a Star Wars marathon running on Spike because you know I love those movies. Let's just get to the meat, can we?
Under no circumstance am I suggesting that we dispense with small talk, because small talk is a wonderful way to talk to each other without delving into deeply personal subjects. I'm afraid we've turned "small talk" into "empty talk" and there is a difference.
Think of a plate with food on it (we'll stick with the Thanksgiving theme.) You can fill the plate with small bites and light bites. Olives, cheese toasts and a small sweet like a bite sized pecan tart. Or you can pile it high with empty bites like cotton candy and puffed corn. That second one is a full plate but there's precious little on it. You're still going to be quite hungry when you're done with it. Why not go for the plate of SMALL bites rather than EMPTY bites?
My proposal is that we can do the same with our language. We can speak lightly (in small talk) about things of interest and value without delving into politics, religion, philosophy or any other deep argument. We can greet each other without remarking on the weather. Here are some ideas to get you started:
After a holiday: Did you know that nutmeg was once a prized spice and thought to clear head colds?
After a weekend: Good morning! We saw "Wreck It Ralph" this weekend and I laughed out loud a few times!
On a Friday: I hear there's a new dog park opening near you, have you checked it out?
See? It's all pretty innocent, but it's got a point. It's sharing, it's encouraging learning new things, however small. And it's meaningful even though it's small! Maybe this is my New Year's Resolution this year: to avoid empty small talk and instead reach for something with just a little more to it. Maybe I'll have better conversations.
Or people will stop talking to me altogether. Either way, I win.