“Small talk is an informal type of discourse that does not cover any functional topics of conversation or any transactions that need to be addressed. Small talk is conversation for it’s own sake.”
The author of the above definition appears to believe ‘small talk’ is overrated as a means of communication. Ellen DeGeneres agrees. She says, “I hate having to do small talk. I’d rather talk about deep subjects. I’d rather talk about meditation , or the world, or the trees, or animals rather than small, inane, you know, banter.”
I have to admit, for most of my life I agreed with Ellen.
My mother likes to tell the story of the conversation she tried having with me after my very first day of school. She asked a series of the usual questions every mother asks their child like, “What did you learn?…Did you have fun?…Did you make any friends? and…Was the teacher nice?”
I didn’t say a word so she asked why I wouldn’t tell her how my day went. As she tells it, I answered her by saying, “If you’d quit asking so many questions, I might be able to tell you something.”
In high school I could have cared less about who was breaking up with whom, who won the beer chugging contest over the weekend and guessing who had recently lost their virginity. It all seemed so childish and pointless. Whenever I was in a group, I secretly longed for someone to carry on a deeper conversation with. So instead of joining in on the current conversation, I often stood silently by, pretending to show interest.
Looking back on those days, at worst others thought I reeked of a giant superiority complex and at best thought I seemed aloof. I fooled many though into believing I was a great listener but I was actually only bored out of my mind unless someone pulled me away from the crowd to share a meaningful, one-on-one conversation. This rarely happened because I was waiting for someone else to make the first move. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered it was up to me to make the first move and it often involved beginning with small talk.
My wife, Karen became my full-time instructor on the art of small talk. I learned that small talk is often a warm up to deeper conversations. Slowly but surely I bought into this way of thinking but still often found it uncomfortable around strangers.
They say “practice makes perfect” and driving for Lyft and Uber has proved to be fertile soil to plant my ‘small talk’ seeds. Every day I drive, I pray for divine appointments…riders who I can share words of encouragement with. These are opportunities to water my seeds and see what grows.
Some riders also feel the same amount of disdain for ‘small talk’ as Ellen and the seed I plant can’t penetrate the layer of rocky soil they place over that seed. Other’s are open to small talk but won’t allow it to grow so eventually the conversation withers and dies. Then there are those who God has given to me as the answer to my daily prayer. These conversations start out small, but continue to grow until they blossom into the most beautiful flower imaginable.
For example: I picked up a young woman recently who was open to carrying on a conversation. She asked me how I liked driving for Uber and I answered by explaining how ordinary small talk often led to extraordinary conversations and I told her a story.
While driving in Seattle I picked up a young women who was crying as she sat in the passenger seat of my car. I asked her if she was okay and she responded by telling me she had just broke up with her boy friend. I understood her feelings having raised two daughters who each went through break-ups of their own. I shared some stories which made her laugh but she then feel silent and began to cry once more.
I asked her if there was anything else she wanted to tell me. Without looking my way she told me she found out earlier that day she was pregnant. She told her boyfriend who responded by telling her she had to get an abortion or he would break up with her. The girl finally looked at me and said, “I won’t get an abortion so I broke up with him.”
I asked her if she had told her parents yet and she slowly shook her head. “I’m afraid to tell them,” she said. “I have two older sisters who are both the black sheep of the family but I’m the ‘good’ girl. My parents will be so disappointed in me.”
She told me she loved her parents and knew they loved her so I explained how they probably would feel disappointment but that their love for her would soon push away that feeling and be her biggest supporters.
After a few more minutes of asking me for advice, she asked if she could change her destination.
“Sure.” I answered.
Her new destination was her parents house.
The girl in the backseat was quiet for a few moments and then said, “I think I’m your ‘divine appointment’ for today. I can’t believe you decided to share that particular story to me because I’m going through something very similar.”
For the next thirty-minutes she talked, asked questions and by the time she exited my car to go to work, she was smiling while telling me she hoped to be one of my divine appointments again.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29