In praise of small talk

Faith & Inspiration

Humility partly comes from espousing heartily today an opinion that you were as adamantly opposed to yesterday. This is how I feel about “small talk.” For most of my life I was against it. Even the name is universally disparaging. Who could defend it? Small talk is talk without teleology, without purpose, without an important message to communicate. It is wasting your time of day.

My change of mind regarding small talk has come after noticing that I have not learned much about anyone or anything for seven decades because I have been too prissy to engage in it. For years I would not condescend to small talk. This is partly the hippie ’60s syndrome, I’m thinking, in which we depicted our parents as empty suits waiting for a gold watch after 50 years of water-cooler chatter and over-the-picket-fence inanities. We rebelled.

But as my grandmother told me decades ago—not sharply, and not belaboring the point, and yet it lodged in my head these many years—if you don’t talk to people you don’t learn anything.

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Small talk takes being not too big for your britches, not thinking too highly of yourself:

“… I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think …” (Romans 12:3, ESV).

If you are too self-important, you can never let simple comments flow freely from your mouth, comments on the order of: “That looks like fun!” (Which I said the other day to a young man on a motorcycle ready to take off from the train station. He removed his helmet and stayed to chat a while.) If you are smug about small talk you will never remark about someone’s cool hat, or the weather, or the condition of the mangoes at the market.

How is this for small talk?

“Give me a drink” (John 4:7, ESV).

I don’t think I need to tell you what came out of that particular icebreaker. Jesus was tired and could well have rationalized keeping to Himself and thinking about the dinner his friends were bringing back from town soon. But He got outside of Himself and struck up a conversation. This is the standard, that lofty, unreachable and elegant segue into a gospel presentation: “Give me a drink.”

If Jesus can do that, you and I can too.

Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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