Wednesday, February 01, 2012


Superficiality makes the world go round.

I've never been keen on that.  I like real.  I like genuine.  I like honest.  But that requires trust and love and commitment. 

Customers come into the bank.  "Hi, how are you today?"  "Just fine.  And you?"  "Pretty good, thanks."  There are certain conversations that are acceptable: the weather, the Packers, gardens, the Brewers, the Badgers, and plans for upcoming holidays (if there's one around the corner).  If you really want to push the envelope and go a step closer to real conversation, you might say, "You been keeping busy?" 

People say they're "fine" when they're not; they know this is all superficial.  Sometimes you bump into someone who's very alone, and you learn not to ask about holiday plans because the loneliness is overwhelming and they can't respond according to the rules of The Superficial Game.

And yet, I'm beginning to see that this is necessary.  "Have a great afternoon."  "Thanks.  You too."  "Well, thank you."    It's what we do.  It keeps things pleasant.  It may be shallow.  We may not be connecting with those hundreds of neighbors that cross our path.  But the other option is grumpiness and incivility. 

This pervasive superficiality leaves a person yearning for a real relationship.  But so many times, in so many places, that's not an option.  So I guess the superficial pleasantries are better than complete aloofness or general crabbiness.


  1. While superficiality bothers me, it's a saving grace after 10+ years working with the public. Humans aren't built to have a meaningful, personal relationship with thousands of people over the years.

    I always felt bad when one of those people who had no other options for a deeper relationship would find that need overwhelming and corner me at work and dump everything on me.

    I didn't want that forced familiarity at all, but I felt sorry for them, and had to remind myself over and over that they wouldn't be going into detail about their children who never call and their gout and their landlord troubles to me if they had a choice.

    But it's really hard on those of us who are shoehorned into the role of confidant by virtue of a service job. It's almost impossible to give strangers the support they want and need. It takes emotional energy that a normal day at work doesn't require.

  2. Yes. People like to bad mouth "small talk," but it is necessary and, I think, proper. Like papercrystals observes, we can't have meaningful relationships/conversations with everyone we encounter. But small talk allows us a means of saying, "I see you and affirm you and wish you well." We once did a conversation course as a family that talked about how small talk is never much about the actual topic at hand but about something else, which it called the "subtext." That subtext is what matters, not the superficial meaning (or lack thereof) of the words. And there are verbal and nonverbal cues/markers that indicate the desire (or lack thereof) of the participants to carry the conversation to a deeper level. The ability to engage in small talk that comes across as warm and genuine and does not seem awkward nor take the conversation in a direction one does not want to go is definitely an art form!

  3. Rachel, "yes" about having too many people need you. I remember Mrs Kaseman telling me about a principle that La Leche League taught her about over-extending herself. I think she might've said that we can be truly involved & invested in a maximum of six people's lives. Wow.

    Cheryl, Laura was telling me this morning after Bible class that, when they were in Germany and there was thus none of the superficial small talk, it left her feeling quite alone. She said that trip showed her how important the superficial pleasantries are. I thought that was very interesting!