Every Friend Was Once a Stranger – The Necessary Awkwardness of Small Talk

Every friend was once a stranger and the first meeting is often awkward. The small talk that new acquaintances engage in can often be tiresome, and yet it is necessary. You ask questions to get to know the other and tell things about yourself, sometimes wondering (especially if you’re the introverted type) why you are bothering. When the friendship blossoms however, the stress would be long forgotten and it would have been worth it.

We ought not to fret so much because it only takes a conversation of less than 5 minutes for a repeat meeting with the same person by now, not with a stranger, but with an ‘old’ acquaintance, and a new friend.

Mobile devices are saving us from this awkwardness but we should not let it. Enter a public transportation and see everybody reach inside to bring out, not a gun (to attack the other with) but something close to that – a cell phone, to protect themselves, and build that social shield they feel they need so much. Any thing, but the awkwardness of starting a conversation with a total stranger. Is it any wonder that we now wonder what has happened to friendship? Go to a waiting room (be it a hospital or a bank) and the same scenario is repeated: people creating multiple isolated bubbles in a collective space that should ideally be the scene of the creation of friendship and new social relationships.

We are Africans and we are social. We care about other people. It is who we are. We love technology and as daring a people as we are, we take advantage of the best of innovations. Yet we must protect that which is truly ours – the innate ‘family’ instinct that make us recognize in the other person, a neighbour, a brother, a sister. While we enjoy our technology, let us remember to look up, smile at the other person and say hi. You will light up another person’s day and when all is done and dusted, when your cell phone battery dies, when you end that Instant Message chat, when you say goodbye to the other person at a remote location (may of whom you’ve never met)… there’ll still be someone at your side, waiting to see the human in you.

Remember, small talk may be hard, but it is only an apparent tedium, and it lasts but a short while. What follows is friendship and the world needs more of it.

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