Small Talk

Self-Compassion For Small Talk, And Handling The Hardest Social Question

Who Are You?

When faced with tough social questions, we need all the self-compassion we can get.  The most difficult question is easily the one that asks for a self-summary: Who are you?  Other social questions stress us out because we know they are in some small way or another pointing back to that bigger question.  People are always trying to figure us out, and we don’t like it. 

There is a famous scene in the movie “Anger Management,” in which Jack Nicholson asks Adam Sandler’s character who he is at a group therapy meeting.   Sandler fails the first time by describing his hobbies, a second time by describing his work, a third time by asking another group member for an example of what they said.  He breaks under this social pressure, and angrily shouts, “I don’t know what you want!” and who could blame him?  

Small Talk Scares Us

Most of us fear small talk with strangers because we have the sneaking suspicion that we might be outed for not knowing about some important movie, actor, musician, current event, clothing line, or even worse for not knowing ourselves well enough to be judged authentic.  No one wants to be thought a fraud or worse, too self-absorbed or incompetent to know the first thing about themselves.  It’s ironic, if you think about it.  There is so much pressure to fit in, but still people expect us to have a unique style and understanding of the world that we are willing to defend.  No wonder small talk is so scary!

Self-Compassion Steps For Preserving Ourselves Despite Social Pressure

Our fears about small talk and the hardest social question can be ameliorated with a practice that allows us to slowly develop a self, while safely hidden and powered by self-compassion.  In this private lab, we will be more willing to try new things and fail, which will give us insight into ourselves.  Slowly but surely, we will build a self that can maintain the status quo, while guarding interests, likes, and passions that enable us to answer the most difficult small talk questions.

You start this self-compassion practice by noticing the tension that emerges with the choice in front of you (e.g., music, movies, food, clothing, etc.)  You name it, most likely anxiety.  Then, you soften around the parts of your body that are strained.  You notice how you come by these worries naturally, the videos, social media posts, and comments you have heard over the years from friends and family denigrating anyone, who decides to carve a path that is very different from the norm.  Then, you give yourself compassion for both being a person with unique tastes, and also a member of a larger group, whose love you would appreciate.  Then, you think of a really nice way to be kind to yourself. 

The next step is key.  Visualize how you would like to be dressed, what you would like to be eating, the events you would like to attend, and the hobbies you would like to follow, if you were sure that no judgment would come of these choices.  From this image, pick one of these things that you can do today.  Do so in a private place or a public one if you are feeling really courageous.  Recall all the ways in which you are similar to people to free yourself from the fear of being isolated by others, then relish in this small characteristic that makes you just a little bit interesting.  Slowly, build on these efforts by choosing one new thing a week.  Sooner than you think, you will be able to answer even the most difficult small talk questions.  

Small Things Are Powerful

Small things can be very powerful, like a first kiss, a chance encounter, traveling to a new city, or simply stumbling upon a person that has lived an inspiring life.  Start small.  Work within your means.  Do it out of compassion for yourself, and everyone else.  Never forget that we all struggle to be ourselves and stay connected.  Perhaps, this struggle is all you need to feel forever bound to the people you wish to love and be loved by.

365 Days Of Self-Compassion.  Day 229.  In The Books.