I have resolved to divorce the association between cocktail parties and small talk.
When I think of “small talk,” I have the same visceral reaction as when someone mentions “gluten-free waffles.” Who’s idea was it to take a glorious thing, and rob it of all power to delight, inspire, and satisfy deep hunger?
We’ve been told that “talk is cheap.” I would argue that small talk is cheap. But a thoughtful question, a timely joke, or a true story shared can be life-giving. Quality words spoken require intention, sensitivity, and often risk. It is tempting to hide in the safety of small talk, but the gratification of real talk is greater still.
What motivates us to return to the same uninspired questions time and again?
Personally, small talk is my cop out for doing the hard work of self-forgetfulness. In conversation, canned questions relieve me of the responsibility to think hard about the person before me, their goals, their loves, their fears, and their journey. Minimal consideration or curiosity about these things would inspire a list of questions of unmanageable length.
For those of you who have shared a cocktail with me, or will do so in the future, I challenge you to check the small talk at the door. Expect to be asked a meaningful question, or two, or twenty. Come curious about the friends and strangers with whom we raise a toast, clink our glasses, and in whose presence we find ourselves.