Monday, February 07, 2005

Small Talk Using Up My Words

Silence makes us uncomfortable. It makes us so uncomfortable that we fill up every second with speech. Most of the time it is meaningless speech called "small talk".

I used to despise small talk. I was so horrible at it so most of the time I just remained silent.

Over time I began to realize that small talk, however, is necessary to exist as a "normal" member of society. It is a necessary evil in the work place. If I have nothing in common with a person, now I can always resort to talking about the weather or giving a day of the week status. I am convinced that many people talk about sports, movies, and television for this same reason.

Each day I have numerous "small talk" conversations with colleagues in my building. Word after useless word comes out of my mouth over the course of the day leaving me exhausted by the time I return home at night to my family. Is there any wonder why I don't feel like talking in the evenings?

The Baal Shem Tov taught that each person is allocated a certain number of words that he can speak before he dies. It is unpleasant to think that my words are being used up with small talk.

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Afterthought:

My mother, known to be very quiet person, often repeats this anonymous quote, "There is no point in speaking unless you can improve upon the silence." I think this sums it all up nicely.

10 Comments:

At February 7, 2005 at 10:31:00 AM EST, Blogger Tamara said...

There are times when I'll choose not to make small talk (say, if I'm on the playground with my kids) because I can't stand inane chatter, and I'm amused at how acutely uncomfortable people are with silence. Sometimes they'll conclude that I don't have very good social skills -- people will pass judgement, so there are situations (e.g. work) where you have to make chit chat.

 
At February 7, 2005 at 11:11:00 AM EST, Blogger G Green said...

I couldent agree more, but I'm still undecided whether it is worthwhile to do the samll talk thing in the work place. So I dont talk to my colleagues unless I have to; I dont make useless small talk conversations, and keep them short when I need to. So they think I'm a bit anti-social. Nu nu. Worse things shouldent happen.

Is typing / blogging the same as talking with regard to what the Baal Shem Tov teaches?

 
At February 7, 2005 at 12:09:00 PM EST, Blogger Jen said...

I just hate it when I'm too tired to talk to my mate at the end of the day. I talk incessantly at school. I kind of have to, don't I? It's exhausting speech. Much of the time I'm just shushing kids. Today I had to resort to a threat: "The next person who talks is getting detention!" You know what? I had to give out detention! Oy vey.

 
At February 7, 2005 at 12:24:00 PM EST, Blogger defen said...

I go to college and prefer not to talk inanely with my classmates... Therefore I am silent most of the day. I notice that after 15 hours of speaking-when-spoken-to, I chatter away to whomever will listen after I come home.

 
At February 8, 2005 at 2:18:00 PM EST, Blogger Anshel's Wife said...

I had a falling out with my son's teacher a few weeks ago. I saw her at a function motzei Shabbos and we chatted meaningless words, but at least we were talking. There are also times when I'm upset with my mother, but I will still call her or she will call me and we'll talk about nothing, but at least we are talking.

 
At February 8, 2005 at 4:06:00 PM EST, Blogger Alice said...

When I moved from NE to the South I had a really hard time with the requisite small talk that needs to precede conversation, so I just launched right in and tried to avoid it. I got along much better when I made the time to participate in this little ritual. People feel you are moving too quickly and being rude if you don't do the small talk. In a way it's like people are agreeing that the personal connection, however tiny, should take precedence over whatever impersonal business that must be done, which is kind of a nice way to look at it. The only time I really can't stand it is when one or both of the people really loathe the other. Then it's just being fake, which I hate.

 
At February 8, 2005 at 8:40:00 PM EST, Blogger Sharvul said...

Something we can learn from the Japanese: silence is not considered a bad thing here. It is not uncommon to sit in a restaurant and see couples or even groups of people sitting silently for long periods of time. Ride the subway or the at rush hour; you wouldn't be able to move a limb, but you'll hear a pin drop. Silence is also used in business negotiations, as the Japanese know full well that a Westerner will usually not resist the temptation to break the silence in the meeting and say something (usually to his/her disadvantage). All in all, I have found that the Japanese have mastered the advice of R. Shimon Ben Gamliel (Avot 1, 17) much better than his descendants...

 
At February 9, 2005 at 1:38:00 PM EST, Blogger Stx said...

Defen--Wow! That's EXACTLY what happens to me. I frustrate my parents sometimes with my chatter, but after hours and hours of silence, I need an outlet! B"H I have wonderful friends who are awake til all hours of the night and don't mind a random phone call...

As for the rest of the comments, I don't think I agree. Granted, it's important to minimize unnecessary chatter. But I think that we have to define "chatter" more loosely, and be VERY careful not to put down small talk that could be productive. For example, you can be doing acts of kindness by making someone feel comfortable and liked. You can be starting a relationship that will later grow into something more than small talk. You can be reminding someone that you still care very much about them, including every single little detail of their lives.

Attn all men: Many women want this type of small talk, in order to make them feel like they're constantly solidifying their relationship. This won't make sense to you, but trust me on this one. Men just don't get it sometimes, and women don't get why men don't get it.

A generalization, but one that I think is important to point out as something to keep in mind...

 
At February 9, 2005 at 1:45:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Stx, you wrote:

"Attn all men: Many women want this type of small talk, in order to make them feel like they're constantly solidifying their relationship. This won't make sense to you, but trust me on this one. Men just don't get it sometimes, and women don't get why men don't get it."

Thanks. I appreciate the insight. Very true.

 
At November 23, 2005 at 1:45:00 PM EST, Blogger MC Aryeh said...

wow. We do think alike in many areas...wonderful Ba'al Shem Tov quote -makes me want to be much more possesive of my words knowing how precious their allotment will be,,,

 

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