One of the reasons many of us find social encounters difficult is that they force into that particular conversational byway called small-talk – where we have to pay a lot of attention to the weather and the upcoming holidays. But what is small talk, why does it exist and how can we learn to navigate it more fruitfully?
A lot of discomfort about going to social engagements is rooted in what can sound like a rather high-minded concern: a hatred of small talk. We can develop a dread of parties because we know how likely we are to end up wedged into conversations about the weather, parking, traffic or the way we plan to spend the forthcoming holidays – when there would be so many deeper and more dignified topics to address: the future of humanity, the fate of the nation, or the melancholy state of our hearts. We resent parties for holding up an ideal of community and dialogue while trapping us in unproductive and insincere banter; for making us more lonely than we ever would be in our own homes.
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