It's surely understandable that the small daily interactions that most of us carry on each day—be they with bank tellers to retail clerks and everyone in between—don’t plumb the depths of how we truly feel. Who has the time or inclination? Who would go into a Starbucks and, in response to “How are you doing,” confess to feeling poignantly low in the wake of a friend’s or family member's death? Or, for that matter, on the other side of the compass: "I just came from a six-mile run and feel incredibly grateful to be able to put one foot in front of the other."
I’ve recently been more deliberate with these kinds of interactions, by responding with a very brief but heartfelt comment about life, politics, health, family, education et al. It’s been gratifying to recognize how quickly we can form strong connections with those whom we don’t really know, with the resulting warmth carrying throughout the day.
Taking a further step back from those universal avenues paved with little more than meaningless chit-chat while waiting for this cup of venti nonfat latte or that bank-deposit receipt, why is the tendency with even regular interactions to stay on the surface? Why do some personal exchanges remain filled with stock responses and clichéd dialogue, while others develop into warm, open relationships—whether the contact is daily, monthly or even annually?
Paul Simon’s “The Dangling Conversation” describes a devastating if all-too-common scenario that could apply equally between spouses, friends, siblings or parent-child relationships:
It’s a still-life watercolor
Of a now late afternoon
As the sun shines through the curtain lace
And shadows wash the room
And we sit and drink our coffee
Couched in our indifference
Like shells upon the shore
You can hear the ocean roar
In the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs
The borders of our lives
One can argue that chemistry plays its part. Common interests and shared histories—whether painful, euphoric or humorous—also provide the pulleys for strong bonds. Yet our time on this earthly little planet remains ever brief, so why not look outward, beyond ourselves, while engaging for a moment with the dry cleaner, hotel desk clerk or Apple store salesperson? And for longstanding relationships, why not continue to relish commonalities and events large and small that keep life perpetually fascinating, rather than focus on the all-too-familiar?
For each of us, personal communication remains vital, despite the distance that texts and tweets and posts and pages allow. If even occasionally or briefly, think about freshly brewed conversations vs. surface replies and stock exchanges. Then emotively profit from the resulting interactions.