To be honest…with Hannah Koehler

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To be honest, there is too much small talk. “Small talk” is the tedious conversation you have with that twice-removed relative that you only see once a year during the holidays.

“How are classes going?”

“Keeping out of trouble?” (Question often paired with an unwelcomed wink).

“Have you met a special someone yet?”

Though small talk isn’t always as uncomfortable as the unavoidable conversations with your extended family, it’s usually as unfulfilling. Small talk is also the easy, virtually meaningless conversations we all seem to have on a day-to-day basis. Though small talk has its place, it seems that far too many of our conversations are flimsy, insubstantial and will most likely be forgotten the next day. We are hesitant to talk about about meaningful things.

It’s not an easy thing to speak openly with another person. Small talk is easier and less taxing but does virtually nothing for you. I am not pretending to be excused from this. I have issued a lot of polite small talk, as social situations usually deem it necessary. However, I have also specifically issued small talk when an actual conversation could have been possible. I have shut down many well-intentioned questions about my wellbeing with “I’m fine” because it seemed like the easier option.

We usually allow ourselves to have meaningful conversations only at a specific time, place, atmosphere. I asked a friend when she’d had her best conversation, and she replied that it was at 2 a.m. on her front porch. I can also attest that most of my favorite conversations have happened at odd hours of the morning when I’ve finally let myself speak freely. There is nothing wrong with the 2 a.m. conversations, but they are too infrequent.

Good conversations don’t always have to be spilling your soul to another person. Substantial conversations are simply about delving deeper into one’s opinions and thoughts. A reason for the rarity of substantial conversation is because people don’t want to “offend” anyone with their beliefs and opinions, or they don’t want to be judged for their own. Because of this fear, we utilize small talk or chit chat far too often, only skimming the surface of what we actually think.

Our current political climate exemplifies our difficulties with effectively conversing with people who do not share our beliefs. Either people avoid talking about their opinions or they do so in a hostile manner that doesn’t welcome opposing viewpoints.

Similar to small talk, aggressively forcing one’s beliefs on another person is an ineffective and unfulfilling use of speech. The inability to converse with others about one’s beliefs, whether political, religious or personal, makes it difficult to form diverse communities and settle issues. We need to find the middle ground between uncontroversial small talk and aggressive one-sided debate. Controversial, challenging and respectful discussions are vital because they stimulate us intellectually and force us to evaluate and justify our beliefs.

Having small talk when a substantial, stimulating conversation is possible is a waste of your time. Having meaningful and substantial conversations can be difficult but more beneficial in the long run. Good conversations promote intellectual stimulation and better relationships with people. You don’t necessarily have to have eye-opening, vulnerable conversations with every single person you know. Honestly, having to make small talk with your twice-removed relative is already more conversation than you usually want. However, if you see an opportunity to skip the small talk and have a meaningful, provocative conversation, you should take it.

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