Virtues of Small Talk

She said, “I detest small talk. I get nothing out of discussing the weather with strangers. Why waste of time and breath with empty dialog? Conversation should be enlightening, worthwhile, heartfelt.”

More often than not, I’ve agreed. Silence does not frighten me. I don’t need to fill it with chatter. I resent the intrusion on my thoughts.

But in studying Japanese, the language of set dialogs, the language of standard questions and responses, I’ve learned some virtues of small talk. Small talk can insulate as much as silence. Yet unlike silence, which intimidates many, small tall lubricates our social interaction.

Americans, though, are suspicious of surface meanings, which we denigrate as superficial. We demand that every conversation, every interaction cut deeply into the heart, reveal the depths of our pain and our happiness. We have forgotten how to avert our eyes, to look on the surface, to value composure. We distrust polite conversation because we suspect that it casts a veil over the truth.

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The surface and beneath the surface