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The Great Return to Life: Small Talk Has Never Been Smaller, Come Prepared With Something Real

If you thought the weather was a dull talking point before, the hallway of small talk just got a bit narrower, friend.

It’s been an emotional time, to say the very least. After a year and change of isolation and loneliness, a generous portion of the restrained population is teetering on the edge, toes hanging over, ready to dive back in head-first. This is all well and good as long as it’s not head-first into the shallow end, so to speak. As life begins again, so will the regular conversations we’ve been vying to have in person for too long. Which begs the question — what will be the substance of our chats?

Personally, I envision a variety of weekly group therapy wherein my friends and I hug and pinch each other until we’re out of breath or someone taps out, anything to eliminate the possibility of another cruel dream. After a year of taking almost nothing for granted, numerous celebratory toasts for all the missed milestones, canceled birthdays and grazed-over announcements will ensue until I’m dying to get back home to my solitude for an extended period of time alone.

But that’s just me.

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For most people, there will be a ‘can you believe that just happened’ loop of the same conversation on repeat, only to return to the same old small talk of years BC — before COVID — as if nothing ever happened. But we cannot stress this enough —

Please don’t.

As bad as everything has been — what didn’t happen, really? — there have been so many random takeaways, unexpected positives, uncomfortable conversations and hidden meaning in it all that it would be a waste to just return to our regular programming. As if we’ve been sentenced to time without conjugal visits for being just bad enough humans with a lot of room for improvement, we should all now see exactly what’s been lacking and what needs to be done to make amends moving ahead, not just individually but collectively, high and wide.

And It Begins With Real Talk

It begins with community. It begins by taking that small talk and making it big, then amplifying it throughout other communities until it loops back around and you start to see real change. Until you see people talking differently. You hear it in their voice, the quiver of caring about things never much thought of before.

As a straight, white man of privilege, I’ve begun to deal with the damage of being racist for the first time in my life, the result of 36 years being so white that the only Black people I knew before the age of 19 were the sports heroes I saw on TV and my mom’s “alone time” with Oprah. My whole life I’ve thought of myself as an advocate for all walks of life, but I spent my years being quiet when I should have been loud, I was defensive when I could have been listening, and I pretended I knew better when I was likely in the wrong. I lacked empathy for numerous communities I only sympathized for. I spent a lot of the time trying to get people to come to my level of understanding, as opposed to hearing them, apologizing for past sins — however ignorant they were — and elevating myself to a higher level.

Put simply, I’m better for having had this year of introspection. It’s led me to find new communities of folks who work daily at bettering themselves in ways I never considered before, and it’s infectious. But I’ve learned I am no longer my perception of myself, only the actions I take to elevate myself and uplift people in need of my support, from the closest of family to the most distant of strangers.

We are no longer our favorite color. We need to lift them all up.

We are no longer our astrological sign. We cannot be judged by our race, gender or beliefs, let alone our date of birth.

We are no longer what our jobs are but rather how we spend our free time.

We are no longer the car we drive or the clothes we wear, we must support sustainability and struggling Small businesses.

We are no longer the things we think we are. We are only our actions. We are only our big conversations.

The Selfish Get Selfless

Envision your Great Return to life. You may be on your way there this very moment. Is it a little more fantasy football and beer-farts or homegrown produce and real talk? This is not to say to enjoy your life, but one thing that became abundantly clear throughout the course of last year is that many people only do what they want, regardless of how it affects others.

We challenge you to enjoy your life, to the fullest in fact, but become more mindful of others and help others along the way. Branch up, reach out and try to avoid closing yourself off. It’s the people who opened themselves to the world, rolled up their sleeves and got their hands in the dirt that have gotten us back to sea level. But we should stay grounded for long. In order to fly forward, we have to shed the things that weigh us down, the judgments and negativity, the anxiety and self-loathing, and that all begins with big talk that becomes real action.

PREORDER JUSTIN BALDONI’S DEBUT BOOK ‘MAN ENOUGH: UNDEFINING MY MASCULINITY’

Everyone has just been put through a series of unprecedented human trials unlike any other testing, each community with their own circumstances to deal with and as we await the results, those early conversations we have will speak volumes about where we’ve put our time and how we’ve grown. So you have to ask yourself where you want your place to be.

Do you speak from the heart or are you still saying things you think people want to hear?

Did you call your friends to see how they’ve been or did you sit by the phone?

Do you smile through your mask at people even if it’s you’re unsure they can see it?

People notice things. They’re hyper-aware and growing in sensitivity. So instead of holding it in for lack of self-confidence or fear of ridicule, roll the dice of uncertainty in hopes your voice can be heard. People will respond, and if there’s something to be learned, receive it with grace. There is no space left for selfishness, it’s a world for the selfless out there, and we are all needed there.

No More Thoughts & Prayers, Just Action

In a world of limitless potential, and it feels like we are just now tapping into the right things. So it might go without saying — we’ll say it anyway — there’s a lot more to talk about than yourself now. Your thoughts and your hopes cannot compare to what you routinely do to counter global warming and what steps you’re taking toward championing women in your life daily. Only your experiences and real talk can lend to raising the conversation. Words that heed a call to action.

That’s what it is to be man enough now. This can be your afterlife.

Nobody wants to hear about your clothes or your car, Ed Hardy. These are things of the past. People want to know who you voted for, bro. No one cares about your tax return or where you put your screw-you stimulus money. We want to know what your ideas are for sustainability, pay equality and ending racism in your neighborhood. And we want to see you follow through.

We want to know what you’ve really been up to.

We want to know where you fit in this New World and how you’re going to keep it from reverting back.

So make the necessary shifts, reprioritize your speed dials and, please, no more thought and prayers, unless they are tied to your actions. Remember, it starts with real talk.

We’ll see you out there.

And don’t worry, we won’t pinch.

Cover image: Rawpixel (Envato Elements)

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