I want to begin with my definition of small talk. When I say small talk, I don’t mean small talk with coworkers or acquaintances that you already know; it’s not one of the “Hi, how are you?” “I’m good, how are you?” sort of conversations. I’m referring to the “Where are you from?” “What do you do?” sort of small talk that you make with people you’ve never met, like on a date or an airplane.
Do you ever have a realization and feel the need to immediately write it down so you don’t forget? Well, that’s what happened to me, and this post is the result of that compulsion.
I recently volunteered at a New York Road Runners (NYRR) race. I was on baggage check duty, and each of us had to pair with another volunteer to help hand out racers’ bags after they were done racing.
I was paired with a guy named Jamie. There was quite a bit of downtime in the beginning as we waited for the race to begin, so we chatted. I got to know a little about him– where he grew up, living overseas, his running story, etc.– and he got to know a little about me.
When our shift was over, we quickly said goodbye, have a nice weekend, and parted ways. On my way home, I suddenly felt sad. I thought, I just met and got to know someone who I’m probably never going to see ever again. What’s the point of getting to know someone when they’re effectively going to go back to being a stranger in just a few hours?
That’s when it hit me: We have to live for the present, not for the future. It would have been very awkward if I had only thought about the fact that I’m never going to see Jamie again, and sat there in silence instead of making conversation. However, living in the present and talking to Jamie enabled an opportunity to enrich my life, if only a little.
I realized that it’s not always good to think about things in terms of how it affects our future. It’s important to appreciate the people and things that come into our lives moment to moment. If we don’t live with open eyes and hearts, only rushing to get to our next destination (in my case, a nap at home), we are closing the opportunity to learn, laugh, and experience.
Instead of asking, what’s the point? Ask, why not? You are spending those hours in that place regardless– whether it’s volunteering at a race, riding the train, or attending a class– so you might as well get the fullest experience possible.
I also want to point out that I did not have my phone during those four hours of volunteering. If I had kept my phone on me, I could totally see myself just checking social media or reading the news the majority of the time instead of talking to him. I can see now how damaging my phone can be. I’m going to make a greater effort to put my phone down so I can actually experience more of real life.
Small talk is perceived as shallow, trivial, and unproductive. However, I think a case can be made that it has the potential to be powerful, meaningful, and consequential.