Celebrate your needs and self worth in the cadence of the holidays. Kriste Peoples teaches us how to navigate harmful small talk with love and assertion.
There are two types of Small Talk: Type I and II.
Type I is the wordy filler, a politely pointless attempt to ignite conversation between strangers in checkout lines and elevators, at post offices, motor vehicle places, beauty shops and random reception areas. It’s the chitchat most often regarding non-threatening lines about the weather, celebrities or last night’s game. Never intending to go anywhere or mean anything, Type I Small Talk is idle.
Then there’s Type II. Unlike the harmless annoyance and time suck of the first kind, Type II is lethal and spreads like the pox if allowed to go unchecked. It’s a lethal, persistent disorder handed down to us as plentiful sweet nothings intended to numb our initiative, break us down and lull our ambition.
Type II is the gentle slap of cousin Betty’s velvet glove when she remarks on your “creativity” with lines like, “Well, you know we’ve never done anything like that before…What’s that little thing you were involved in again?“ And how about, “I remember when you used to be so cute/slim/pretty/smart/popular,” while you wrack your brain trying to recall a time when she ever said as much.
It’s the off-color comments lobbed across the holiday table, like Uncle Fred’s unsolicited, “Are you still taking up with (not-your-race, not-your-age, maybe-your-same-gender) what did you say the name was?” Type II is insidious because, like Type I, it’s not supposed to mean anything or go anywhere, and therefore, you’re not supposed to address it nor take offense when the hits keep coming.
This type of small talk collects in the system and diminishes our desire to dream and do. It starts early with an implicit agreement go along with “The Program” at the expense of what you know (knowing somewhere inside you that there will be consequences to eating your heart out this holiday season…or any time). This is going to burn.
In time, Type II quiets your capacity to fend off the syrupy influx of buzz kills, insults and deliberate blocks to your progress.
Years in, you’ll forget how it happened, this chronic fatigue and bloat. When you suffer from Type II, you’ll find yourself asking yourself questions like, “How is this my life? How did I get here?” Well, you’re the only one who can answer that properly, but what I can do is regale you with the following holiday tale. May it serve as a reminder of the importance of expressing your needs and honoring your own worth. No matter what.
Grounded for the Holidays
‘Twas four days before Christmas when all through my loft, I was feeling quite sickly and riddled with coughs.
So I called a good friend who said, ‘Don’t worry, my dear
I’ll cook us a dinner to spread Christmas cheer.
The days came and went without a phone call,
when I feared for the worst: alone after all.
(I was new in town and barely knew anybody at that point.)
So I drummed up my courage and cleared my throat with Ahem,
’cause I’d been sick and stuffed up with phlegm, remember?
I picked up the phone and dialed my friend,
knowing inside me it might mean the end.
“Hey friend,” I said, doing my best to stay articulate.
It was a tough thing to do, with so much throaty particulate. (And jitters.)
“Hey there,” she said, “what’s up with you?”
“Not much,” I replied, “just wondering about that meal?”
And then there was silence, I’m talking silence for real.
After the crickets, she offered me this:
“I chose to leave town rather than stay through Christmas”
“But what of our plans?” I asked with a start.
“What about ‘em?” she said with an absence of heart.
Here’s how I knew Type II was at play:
I was supposed to keep silent, not challenge her say.
The feeling was old, snaking back to my past,
I was queasy and weak, wanting to end the call fast.
But I trusted my gut, and wasn’t going out like that,
Like I should sweep my hurt feelings under the mat. Again.
Hell no, honey!
“We made plans and you never looked back…”
“Well I changed my mind and decided to pack
I went to be with my family this time”
“Yeah, but you left me hanging without reason or rhyme”
For thirty minutes or more, we went round and round
She kept small talking while I held my ground.
Weeding out Type II habits is hard because their roots go deep. Most of the time it’s expected that the offended ones keep quiet and refrain from asking for consideration, accountability or respect from people who’ve offended them. If they’re used to being shunted to back burners and low-priority lists of their own making, then the task of expressing needs becomes that much harder.
But it’s not impossible.
Granting yourself permission to follow your own road makes you take yourself seriously and requires you to be accountable to you above all others. Once you get going, it might feel like you’re on a crusade to piss people off. But you’ll be better for it—for showing up for yourself for affirming your worth and for choosing healthy habits over the rusty old traps laid out in the family pattern.
Even as my voice cracked and trembled, I was proud and relieved to have expressed my real needs. She ran the gamut from dismissive to defensive through the end of our talk, but what mattered to me most was that I heard myself speaking from the truest part of me I knew in the moment.
My friend called me back a few days later apologizing for the way she’d behaved. I knew the only reason she thought she could treat me like that was because I’d been so permissive of it in the past. I’d been used to dismissal and disregard for my feelings and this time I knew it was within my power to change that dynamic.
Now let’s resume our holiday programming, shall we?
This holiday season, when you’re faced with a choice,
don’t quiet, disable, or hush your own voice
Be kind as you can while you let your peeps know
that Small Talk is no longer running the show
You’ve got great things to do and dreams to live out
And playing small isn’t what your life’s about.
[image via Bruno Girin on flickr]