There I was, smiling like an idiot. Nodding my gargantuan head.
When inside I was in absolute agony. Unable to leave. Unable to stop all the horrible noises.
Every urge I had was telling me to put my hands over my ears and start yelling “NANANANANANANA!”
And yet, he seemed oblivious to my suffering. For five painful minutes he went on and on about the weather and how humid it had been recently.
I really hate small talk.
I know it has its place in polite society, but I worry our conversations are being hijacked by idle chit-chat. Too much of our social interaction is superficial. Reality television. The weather. The weekend.
There are so many important things we could be talking about. Real things.
For instance, did you know that 7,500 children under the age of five still die every day from preventable causes like diarrhea and malaria?
Doesn’t get more real than that.
Why is it that we don’t ever talk about these things? Is it because we don’t know enough about the issues and fear we’ll look foolish? That’s hardly stopped us before. Or do these issues just seem too far removed from our normal busy lives?
Or is it just that nobody wants to be a buzzkill?
I recently set myself a challenge, to have a real conversation with someone about a major global issue. And not with a friend or family member—that would be too easy—it had to be a complete stranger.
So here I am, at the playground with my two little ones, readying my nerves.
Sitting nearby are two women chatting about the latest reality television show (or some floozy they both hate). When one woman leaves, I see my chance. The perfect opportunity.
I’m nervous and it shows, particularly under my armpits. It has been years since I approached a strange woman. And this time I couldn’t rely on well-rehearsed dance moves to impress her.
Though, I may still end up with a drink in my face.
I set off to the other side of the playground, but for some reason walking feels completely unnatural. I’ve lost all muscle memory and find myself having to think about every step.
I consider aborting the mission on the basis I may be having a stroke, but I decide to continue. I arrive at my destination and she looks up at me from her phone. I smile (again, something I’ve now forgotten how to do) and, with my diminished brain function, say:
“Excuse me, did you know that thousands of young children die of preventable causes every day?”
Like a heat-seeking missile, her eyes immediately scan the playground to locate her child.
She must be thrown by my opening line because she doesn’t reply. Instead, she starts motioning to leave, like she’s just remembered somewhere she has to be.
While furiously packing up her bag, she calls for her child in a firm but controlled manner. When young Samantha asks for “five more minutes”, the child receives a glare that says “move it or Christmas is canceled”.
Realising I may have contributed to this poor woman’s current state of alarm, I try to explain.
“Sorry, you don’t understand…. I didn’t mean your child will die… I mean, she will, eventually… it’s just that I could show you some websites that would really blow your mind.”
For some reason, this doesn’t seem to help. She’s now in an even greater hurry.
As she starts walking to her car, I try to follow her but that only hastens her retreat.
Then, thanks to a loose bit of footpath, I accidentally stumble towards her, arms flailing. She lets out a shriek before pulling something out of her bag. Pepper spray? A gun? It’s just her keys.
She holds up her hand and responds, “I’m sorry, I really have to go.”
I head back to my lonely bench a defeated man. Mission failed.
I begin questioning my approach. Maybe I was too blunt, too direct. Should I have started with some casual chit chat and then steered the conversation towards global poverty?
“Have you tried that new cafe around the corner? Did you know that some people only eat one meal a day?”
Or maybe I would have greater success if I was holding some sort of flyer. I consider stopping at Officeworks on the way home.
The truth is, I am disheartened by the result. You could hardly call our encounter a meaningful discussion.
But thankfully, ten minutes later, I get the chance to explain myself fully when the woman’s husband arrives at the playground, eager to talk to me.