The Soapbox Papers

The Soapbox Papers is my two-cents worth.

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Location: Beloit, Wisconsin, United States

I am a cross between Tinkerbell and Calamity Jane.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Small Talk

Youngest Offspring (YO) has been writing lately of things people say, things people ask. I read these and offered a rather glib comment – I told him that this was small talk, that nobody really cared about his answers. I’ve thought about it a lot since I wrote it, and I think maybe I made a sweeping statement that nobody cares – when there are definitely important exceptions. “Nobody’ is a pretty big word to use, saying anything, much less talking about who cares.

I know I care – but most of the things YO wrote in response to those who asked - I already know. I mean – this is my kid, and he is writing about the facts of his life. Yet I read with interest these answers to the questions, curiously wanting to know how he described some of these events. After all, he is a grown man. There are some things he mentioned in his response that I didn’t know.

Beside me, I’m sure there are others in his life who do not consider it small talk to ask what he does or who he is. Who among us has not found someone fascinating, and wanted to know all about that person, purely because we are interested and care to know? It happens a lot, not just when we become infatuated or begin to love someone, but whenever we notice a person and decide to ourselves, “Hmm – this is someone I would really like to know better!”

Many people do not answer when someone asks personal questions, or we give non-answers, glib throwaway lines that are often funny, but definitely evasive. Maybe there is a distrustfulness, or maybe we don’t want to let the asker into our private selves for our own reasons. Not answering – or giving a small talk answer – conveniently stops the inquisitions, and we are safe unto ourselves again.

I live in a place that seems to run on small talk. There are some among us who walk around the place with our heads down, not acknowledging anyone else, but the rest of us greet those we pass in the hallways and in the courtyard. We say, “Hey, how’s it going?” or “How are ya?” or “How’re ya doing?” which translates into “Hello. I see you. I don’t know you well, but I see you every day and we live in the same place, so I want to be polite. I want you to think I am friendly. I hope you are well.” It’s a short exchange, lasting only the few seconds it takes to pass one another. Same thing happens in grocery stores and pet stores and department stores and drug stores and it means about the same.

Just for fun, I decided to answer anyone who asked me how I am with, “I’m crazy as a loon!” just to see if anyone really paid attention. I was surprised how many actually did – and how many “Huh?”s I got. I do it still, sometimes. One of my friends hates it. He reminds me of something I told him several years ago, something I learned from a very smart man. The smart man told me to listen to what things I say most often. He said it is the things one says most often that indicate how we really feel about ourselves.

I am going to leave the computer now and go tell that woman in the mirror that she is bright, funny and kinda cute...


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