I’ve spent way too much time recently on the receiving end of the doctor-patient relationship.
I’ve hurt my hip. I’ve had a cavity. I’ve had to get my blood tested. It’s all terrible.
But what is possibly worse than the vulnerability of submitting yourself to another’s care, is the surface-level conversation you’re forced to carry on while being poked, prodded, and examined by someone who knows all the particulars of your body’s history.
It’s aggravating beyond belief to be asked for the hundredth time what grade I’m in (they also never believe that I’m older than 15, even though they’re holding my medical records from age zero), or what I’m doing this summer, or if I’m excited about my fill-in-the-blank life-event. I know they don’t care, they just feel obligated to ask since I’m sitting there in a paper gown, avoiding eye contact like the plague.
I don’t blame them. They don’t want to appear rude any more than I do. So I’ll answer their inquiries with a smile and we’ll both go home having learned absolutely nothing about each other.
It’s not just the medical profession. Everyone from waiters to cashiers to strangers on a bus feels it’s their human duty to engage in meaningless conversation while they wait for the other to exit their lives.
Why do we do this?
Why do we find it mandatory to discuss the weather with the neighbors whom we see at the mailbox? Why do we talk about soda brands at the checkout line? Why on Earth do we fall back on our losing sports teams for inspiration at awkward pauses?
Because, we’re afraid.
We are afraid to bore the other person with a story about the baby’s first steps. We are afraid of being too open if we discuss our sister’s recent battle with cancer.
We are afraid of appearing boastful if we tell of how we finished our first marathon. We are afraid of ruining the other person’s bad mood if we tell a silly knock-knock joke.
We are afraid to tear down the walls we have built up to protect us from ... what? From having a deep exchange with a person so unknown to us? Or from being rejected by someone who knows so little about our lives.
The thing is, we have nothing to lose. This stranger will most likely remain a stranger no matter what you say to them. They won’t hunt you down to laugh at your ignorance, and you won’t devote your life to helping them find true love.
But if you open up and share just a little of yourself, you might be surprised at what you get back in return.
Sure, you might get shot down; maybe they really don’t want to talk to you. Which is fine.
If they’re determined to remain completely and utterly anonymous, then you’ve just gotten yourself a nice story about some random jerk at the post office who was too busy staring at the ceiling to listen to your story about how you once touched Hillary Duff’s hand at a concert – it’s true, I’ll tell you about it if we’re ever in the same waiting room.
If they do take the bait, you might be lucky enough to hear something truly magnificent.
You might find a kindred spirit in the sweet old lady at the market, or the disgruntled teenager bagging your groceries. You might be just the outside ear they need to help them through their struggles, or share in their joy.
Either way you’ve avoided the accursed small talk, and perhaps spread a little love in the process.