Small Talk Revolution
I would like to make a proposal: We, as a society, change our small talk to be less assuming and judgmental. I know, I know, no one is trying to hurt feelings or place judgement, but that is exactly what is happening. When you ask someone about something like children or marriage, you assume they have made that a part of their life. You are reminding that person about the expectation that they should be making that a part of their life. Trust me, they are either well aware of the expectation and already feeling the pressure from society or have chosen not to follow said expectation and don’t feel like dealing with the judgement.
If you ask a woman about if she has kids, or when she’s going to have kids, you are placing the expectation on her that she should have kids. If she doesn’t have kids, or doesn’t plan to have children, then she has to explain that. Women shouldn’t have to explain or defend their choices to anyone! Sometimes, it’s not a choice but an inability, and she already has to explain it to herself most days. She shouldn’t have to explain it to others. If you ask a man about his job and he’s a stay at home dad, you’ve placed the expectation on him that he’s supposed to be working and providing for his family. When you ask a woman if she’s breastfeeding her baby, you’re expecting to hear some stories about it. If she is formula feeding, there isn’t as much to say. It’s almost as bad as asking, “How are you feeding your baby?” Almost as if you wonder if she even is. Do you really wonder if she is taking care of her baby? I didn’t think so.
I’m proposing we push society to get better at small talk that is less judgmental and assuming. The intention to hurt feelings or judge doesn’t have to exist for it to happen. If we all try to help transform societal expectations and social norms to be more open and accepting, we can make a difference. Why not ask questions like, “How are you today?” or “What brings you here?” or “Tell me about yourself!” What about asking “What’s on your mind today?” or “What have you been up to?” These are perfectly acceptable and appropriate to allow for each person to share just what they want without confirming that you have expectations of them and their life.
For example, with the person you know that got married last year, or the mom that just had a baby, just keep it simple. “How’s it going?” There is no need for specifics. You may also find this allows you to find out some of the most interesting things about people that you wouldn’t know if you only focused your questions on marriage, kids, or a job. When people feel accepted, they open up and share their passion more easily. Wouldn’t it be more interesting to know what drives us in life? I mean, no matter which way you ask me, you’ll probably hear that I am married and have an angel baby as well as a little boy at home. This, by the way, took a long while to get confident about. Telling strangers I have a baby in heaven is not always received in a way that makes me feel supported. But if you ask me one of the latter questions you’ll probably also hear about how I use education and empowerment to teach children at school, and work with women in the evenings and on the weekends, to improve the relationship they have with themselves. Why not just ask more open ended questions that allow people to share themselves with you in a way they feel confident about. Allow them to choose if they want to be vulnerable or not.
Sure, our passing conversations may last longer. They may grab your attention and suck you in. You may learn something about someone that you had no idea was happening and have a way to help. You might provide a listening ear for someone that is excited or nervous about something. Maybe you end up making a new friend or finding someone that can help you in some way. The possibilities are endless when we are open and accepting instead of assuming and judgmental.