In his twenty-third letter to Lucilius, Seneca opens with some meta snark that is relatable to anyone who has ever been trapped in a banal conversation at a boring cocktail party. “You were probably thinking I was going to open this letter with idle chit chat about the weather,” Seneca begins, “but I’m not, because who has the time?”
Certainly not Seneca, who spends the rest of the letter talking about the joy that comes from the study of philosophy and the earnest pursuit of the art of living. Important ideas. None of these trivialities—the weather, ‘what have you been up to lately?,’ ‘how’s your mother?,’ ‘reading anything good?’—that he says are the refuge of people who are “at a loss for topics of conversation.”
Topics like philosophy, life, love, death, virtue, fate and fortune. Real stuff.
Life is short. You see and speak to your friends rarely enough as it is. New connections, as they happen these days, are rarer still. Let us not fritter that time and opportunity away on banalities. Let us push through the nerves of newness, through the superficialities of introduction or reacquaintance, to greater understanding and deeper connection.
The weather. Your mom and dad. Traffic. These are trivialities of conversation designed to create quick, easy connection. To show us that we have something in common despite being strangers or not having seen each other in some time. But we are already connected. We already know these things before we say a word to each other. We are sharing the same space, so we have experienced the same weather. We are humans, so we all have mothers and fathers. We each got to this cocktail party from somewhere else, so we know what it took to get here.
These little factoids are what put the trivia in trivialities. They are information, they are not knowledge or insight or wisdom. They are not fake, per se, but they are fruitless. They lack the abundance of the kind of real conversations Seneca had with Lucilius and countless others in his life.
So get real. Speak the truth. Ask the uncomfortable questions. Share. You’ll be glad you did.