Headline, June 09 2019/ ''' '' DOING JUST FINER '' '''

''' '' DOING JUST FINER '' '''

HOW ARE YOU? THERE'S NO GOOD way to answer that anymore. But never mistake or err, that small talk is a necessary lubrication for society to function.

Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguists at Georgetown University and author of ''You Just Don't Understand,'' believes that human beings find an equilibrium by talking about nothing.

It proves that we are willing and capable of being friendly with one another and that parameters of our exchange will be limited to things we can agree on. No matter where you are in the world, it's rude to express an existential uneasiness upon first impression. The pandemic has broken that golden rule.

How are you? What's new? How's it going? How's life? I don't know how to answer these questions anymore. How am I doing?

It is still possible to remember an age where we responded with courteously brainless white lies. You were always ''Fine,'' or ''Good,'' or sometimes ''OK''. The truthfulness of the response was irrelevant in a world where it was possible to conceal the localized anxieties of our personal universes.

So it speaks to the enormity of this moment that the coronavirus has completely supplanted small talk in our social contract. How can anyone fib through a compulsory ''How are you doing?'' In a time like this?

Instead, the empty space at the top of my conversation has been replaced with an inventory of the many tragedies, mysteries and hopes brought on by the coronavirus news cycle and a more spiritual meditation on, in the words of my friends and family, ''How crazy this all is.''

A typical call with my father begins with a cordial navigation of the swelling death toll, the developing economic collapse and the paralyzing terror we both felt on our weekend grocery store trip.

Then, after that purification, we settle back into the purpose of our phone call. For the foreseeable future, nobody is expected to be doing fine.

In that sense, we are probably more honest citizens than we've been in the past.

''If everybody was strangers, and we didn't exchange talk unless you had something important or personal to say, we wouldn't have a lot of conversations,'' Dr. Tannon said.

''That's true for every culture. Like shaking hands or waving goodbye, we have physical and verbal ways to indicate. ''We're in this together. We're both humans.''

Maybe that's why the absence of small talk has been such a disorienting experience. People I barely know volunteer their frayed nerves to me from the moment we start talking. Every interview, every business meeting and every bodega exchange is coloured by these brand new norms.

At its best, small talk allowed us to escape the global pressures bearing down on us, it was a chance to lose ourselves in the milieu of politeness to pretend that everything was OK.

Small talk ensured that our worst fears wouldn't interfere with the simple pleasures of company. I'd like to be capable of talking about something else again.

Already, people I know are starting to learn. My girlfriend opens her weekly business calls with a gossip symposium. She and her co-workers air out a few scandalous tidbits they've gathered around the virtual water cooler before settling into the day's agenda.

Other friends have generated their own breezy icebreakers - loose, first-day-of-school questions like ''What the best movie you watched recently?'' or ''What book are you reading?'' - at the top of their Zoom checkins as a buffer to pandemic discourse.

This is our way of manufacturing a small talk, avoiding that dreaded question ''How are you doing?'' at all costs, By now all of us already know the answer.

Dr. Tannon endorses those strategies. If, in her words, you don't want to ''open the floodgates,'' then temper your salutation with something positive, something light and something that everybody does.

'' 'What's the best thing ate,' not 'What did you eat this week that you wish you didn't,' '' she said. That's the essence of small talk, floating conversations about the weather, the weekend and the Knicks.

It's ironic how much sweet relief we now find in one of our most irritating social responsibilities, how we yearn to talk about nothing important. Maybe that's a sign. Things will have officially gone back to normal when we say we're doing fine without really meaning it.

The World Students Society thanks author Luke Winnke. He has contributed to Vax, The Washington Post and The Atlantic.

With respectful dedication to the Students, Professors and Teachers of the world. See Ya all prepare and register for Great Global Elections on The World Students Society : wssciw.blogspot.com and Twitter - !E-WOW! - The Ecosystem 2011:

''' Small - Stuns '''

Good Night and God Bless

SAM Daily Times - the Voice of the Voiceless


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