My first reaction was shock at discovering I’m following a kindred spirit who had to learn to fake small talk.

That problem plagued me for about forty years. Age, I think, and simple necessity given the positions that I was in required a functional amount of ritualized talking at various events. Ritual can be learned and does not require thought. So that was one tool to deal with it. Rituals are incredibly important for humans and, for that matter, most mammals. Dogs and cats communicate with us primarily through ritualized behavior. Primates are really into it.

The harder part with me was the energy required to think and say innocuous nothings once we got past pure ritual. For some reason that is tiring. And, just as you said, it runs counter to my instinct to talk about this serous shit before it kills us all. The other trick was a bit more convoluted but worked in ways I hadn’t anticipated. The oldest known (carefully assumed) statements of Gautama, before he hit it big as the Buddha, were presented as negatives. These are still part of Buddhism but they’re so buried under ritual that no one knows it.

These statements were not negative themselves (I told you it was convoluted) but based on the understanding that we get in trouble taking positions on things that we can’t prove one way or the other. The point is that we can’t really prove anything one way or the other because we don’t have any absolutely known criterion that allows us to judge something in terms of values or ethics.

What happened was that I accidentally internalized this over the years and after I made the minimum ritualized social noises I shut up. You only need to smile and make appropriate, mildly agreeable sounds in response to what other people say and everyone is happy. This works for whatever they are saying also because you know that they can’t make any useful judgement about things much past, I need to go to the bathroom, or I’m thirsty. And, since I can’t make any real judgement about their statement of those things, even, there is no reason to get agitated.

The extra win is that if you don’t say much but are pleasant and smile they think you know something so they are automatically impressed. Because we all know we don’t really know anything and we don’t want anyone to figure that out so we say more until we get nervous and then we start being careful what we say. People quickly become careful and I’m good with that. This also helps sort people into those who have some sensibility and those who have none and can be avoided.

Now, if you want to talk, we talk and see if we can, by some incredible stroke of luck, actually saying something of value. To me that’s a lot more fun.

Educator, CIO, retired entrepreneur, grandfather with occasional fits of humor in the midst of disaster. . .

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