Talking About the Weather to Gain Trust

When I think back on the things that I believed as a self-assured young twenty-something, one of the more glaringly dumb ideas that comes to mind was my distaste for “small talk.” I even wrote an essay on this site pretty clearly (and aggressively) elaborating my reasons. Surely, there was some merit to it — even today I can find constant discussion of the weather, sporting events, or other recent news, kind of dull — but it was blind to a whole other facet of reality.

When I most enjoy a conversation, it’s when we’ve moved beyond the superficial and safe topics. It’s when we’re talking deeply about some topic that people don’t talk about much for fear that it exposes too much of themselves. Some of my most cherished conversations were ones about dealing with overwhelm, fear, or other traditionally protected topics.

Where my 21-year-old self was woefully stupid is that I thought it was either possible or desirable to just drop into a conversation with a stranger and expect to talk about something as deep as their spirituality or their highest aspirations for their time on Earth.

Most people are, understandably, protected and a bit apprehensive to dive in deeply very quickly. Time has taught them that they can’t and shouldn’t just trust every stranger with their deepest hopes and fears. This is a rational and understandable protection strategy. And even as I frequently pined for a world free of small-talk, I engaged in this very protection strategy. I just didn’t understand this logic of protection.

To disclose their deepest secrets to someone, anyone with a self-preservation instinct will want some assurance of safety. And for most people, trust that they understand a person, their drives, and motives is that assurance. And without some history of interacting with someone and having good outcomes result, people are unlikely to touch any topic that has a reasonable probability of leading to a bad outcome.

You disagree with someone about the weather and you laugh. You disagree with someone about politics, or the existence of God, or the fundamental purpose of life, and you may well want to strap in your seatbelt for an explosion. That — not stupidity, nor malice, nor vanity — is why many conversations are constrained to safe and dull topics.

Now I get that. And I’m getting better at, “Hello, stranger. Nice day isn’t it?”


Life, Uncertainty, Courage

One of the harder-to-deny truths about life is that it’ll always contain uncertainty. We can, seeking solace from this fact, strive to minimize the number of things we don’t know. In doing so, we hope it allows us to act with greater confidence about the kind of outcomes we can expect. And indeed, the more you know about the path you’re going to take the likelier you are to be able to move confidently and quickly while you progress down it.

But spend too much time studying the possible ways in which your journey can possibly unfold and you’ll forget to start it. Quite simply, if you strive too hard to minimize your uncertainties you’ll never do anything. But, indeed, start with too much haste — jaunting out with absolutely no knowledge — and you can quick-step to disaster.

So we’re mostly stuck in this large grey area. We can neither fully know the way the future will unfold as we move into it, nor stop time from progressing and moving us into that future, prepared or not. This grey area is where we live.

Life itself consists of this simple process: moving forward with uncertainty. Maybe your choice will lead to an unassailable legacy and the masses of the future seeing you as the smartest person who ever lived. And maybe it’ll lead you to a mess that you’ll spend the next ten years digging yourself out of, never to recover completely. It can be maddening if your realize this possibility. Debilitating even.

But there’s no changing it. Life moves on, whether we act as cowards or as heroes. We can’t change its direction, no matter how much we’d like to. Time will continue the steady march of its unfolding, dragging us all along at the same steady pace, none of us really knowing what’ll come next.

When I get deep down this thought path, I recall a quote I put on this site some six years ago:

“What must we do? ‘Be strong and of a good courage.’ Act for the best, hope for the best, and take what comes.”

Simply put, this is some of the best advice that you could hope to get about how to deal with uncertainty. And yet it’s also incredibly banal. It’s so obvious and known and non-actionable that it can be extremely frustrating if you let it.

One of the few things I’m certain of is that we cannot remove uncertainty from life. We can’t make the future by thousands of thoughts about the past we’ve come from or the future it would be great to go to. We must take some actions, out here in this big scary world, if we are to influence the future as it unfolds.

This means moving forward in the face of uncertainty. Doing your best to do what is best is courage. It’s strength. It’s that thing we admire so much in those that inspire us by their achievements. And they faced the same uncertain future that we do.

It is their courage, despite their uncertainty, that we admire. Courage makes us sit up and think that someone was doing it right. It is courage, more than nearly anything else, that is remembered. A confident and wise choice pursued doggedly is the thing history most greedily records.