"Practice small talk with random strangers. They won't remember you, and you can gauge really easily what is awkward by their reactions."
And you know what? Not only is it valuable practice in and of itself, but it's incredibly personally enriching! I've just applied this for one day, and already I feel like I'm really interacting and sharing with other people and not just sailing through them on my way to whatever.
I learned a whole bunch of things, too, often as a direct result of initiating conversations:
- Some runs of the 42 Dal-Lacewood, at Dalhousie, switch to the 41 Dal-Dartmouth (as the same bus). I had no idea! It also left me wondering, hey, why don't they mark it as an official "thru-route" in the Rider's Guide, like they do with the 14 and the 61?
- Oh, this is a chemistry thing - the teacher was highlighting how carbon, with four valence (outer) electrons, can bind in four places, making it really flexible and the central atom in many chemically-bound complex molecules. Then it struck me: "Carbon-based life!" Ding! And guess what element is in the next period down, also having four valence electrons and four bonding points? Silicon! After that we get Germanium, but being in that fourth period it's got all those electrons from the central d-block which are at a lower energy level numerically but not practically, and that changes things somehow, not to mention I haven't heard too much about "Germanium-based life."
Little moments like that are what I live for. I almost didn't go to class tonight because I was a little bit sick and I felt like I read the material anyway. Good thing I went, though, because the class really reinforced the earlier part of the current chapter, and I got a great confidence boost by anticipating much of what the teacher said and doing the classroom exercises quickly. On the last set I even took a bathroom break, came back, whizzed through some Lewis structures and the chemical equations behind them, then twiddled my thumbs waiting. And then I waited through my classmate's questions, anticipating the answers and wisely restraining myself from jumping in on them - behaviour that made me the object of revulsion when I took computer science. Anyway, it's all such a change from the last couple of nights where I'd been cursing the day I decided to take this. The textbook is kind of hard to slog through, but it gets the job done.
- Also in chemistry class, I chatted off-and-on with the girl sitting next to me. We exchanged smiles when I came in, and I sat beside her and we just talked. A gift was dropped in my lap: we both happened to be English majors. So that was pretty cool - it made the class go by quite quickly and pleasantly. Much better than last week in the Life Sciences Building, what with the strange location and the reduced attendance. I'm sure there are still people there who have given up and are now trying in vain to escape its labyrinthine trenches. As a CWY buddy once said, it's the only place at Dal where the professors will accept "I couldn't find the place" as an excuse two weeks or more into the class.
- I went to Saint Mary's and signed up for a summer membership at The Tower. I'm going to go to the indoor cycling class coming up on Mondays. I'll be able to go in one or two other days a week, too. I'll be picking up the gear I need tomorrow when I take Paul out for groceries. Cheap stuff from Wal-Mart will do for now. And, I got that information by - you guessed it, talking!
I'm ashamed to admit it, but even though I was at SMU for five years, I only went into the gym for gym purposes twice: both times to shower during the time that we'd lost our power for 13 days as a result of Hurricane Juan. For some strange reason I'd always been intimidated by the gym - I guess I can thank grade school for that, but this is way better than grade school. You also learn that just because people are tougher than you, it doesn't automatically make them jackasses. That's just a really bad kind of childhood classical conditioning that guys like me need to snap out of. The guys there will, say, hold the doors open behind them for you there as much as anywhere.
- AND I also signed up to be a frosh leader! And you know what the "worst" part is? It's the same bunch of ne'erdowells kicking around!! Oh man, that was funny. Even frosh leader / SMUSA legend S.P.'s name was brought up. Not that he's involved now as far as I know, but the continuity is definitely there. Oh man, oh man. It's going to be good times. And I think, this time, I'll actually be a good frosh leader, both before and during frosh week.
- On the way home, after I enquired about the hijacking story splashed prominently on his newspaper page, the guy later gave me that whole section to read, and I hadn't even asked! So that was cool, and I said goodbye to him when he got off, and now he's not really a stranger anymore.
- And then on the 89, I get to talking with a guy about trucking! Technical and logistical ins and outs, which probably wouldn't interest you. Of more general interest, you wouldn't believe the vast array of stuff that's literally hauled across the continent on trucks. Like computers that arrive in California by sea and are trucked all the way up here. Fruits and vegetables, too. That guy who crashed into the Cobequid Pass toll gate yesterday (yes, we talked about that) was on his way to Halifax from Georgia. (And he probably didn't sleep at all on the way, from the looks of things.) They do say, "if you got it, a truck brought it," and verily it seems more and more like the only things that go by rail are things like coal and grain. I talk to the bus driver, too. I get the same driver inbound and outbound, and sometimes I'm the only person on the bus, so it's pretty casual that way.
So yeah, talking! I didn't get struck by lightning - nobody sneered at me, and very little - if any - face was lost. Yeah, it's not like I got a date out of any of it, but that kind of thinking is absurdly short-sighted (not to mention odiously self-serving) anyway. Besides, you have to learn to walk before you can run! (Although I remember a study that reported that running was physiologically easier since it's just controlled falling - BUT ANYWAY MY POINT IS)
Also, funny thing, most of the time, my interlocutors did most of the talking. I had very little cause to have to search for something to say. People have zillions of ideas crying out for expression, and all they want is an understanding ear. All you have to do is put yourself out there and give it to them.
(I also think I know the biggest reason for my failure to establish sustained goodwill among my coworkers at S.G. [a Japanese private grade school I taught at in 2008], especially the Japanese ones, but my fellow foreigners as well. I think they could see that while I cared a lot about being courteous, they saw through that and could see that I was really self-serving. I should have followed F.'s example and made more small talk with the Japanese teachers. I mean, they were sour and taciturn by times, but I should have gone beyond myself and tried anyway. That's the challenge - that's the spice of life - for the default, the minimum, just isn't enough, unless you want to get the absolute minimum out of life.
In any case, I was not thinking about others nearly as much as I should have been. It was me-me-me-me-me morning 'til night. Granted, the work environment had "I will work selflessly in my life for others" literally jammed down our throats, and this, among other things, caused me to want to rebel. I'm thankful every day that I'm out of that place, but I'm also starting to realize in what ways I was the author of my own problems.)
It's not hard. If you talk to people, you'll have cause to think about them. By thinking about them, you'll have cause to talk to people. It's just a matter of trading this cycle:
"You don't really talk to people. As a result, you don't learn how to talk to people. This leads to people not wanting to talk to you."
"As a result, I don't want to talk to people, so I don't talk to people, et cetera."
for another, better cycle.
Okay, let's see how tomorrow goes!