Darryl Morris Weekly – 26.02.21 – Small Talk

I am at Tesco, minding my own business and studying the courgettes.

“Darryl!” cries a voice at the other end of the aisle.

Oh, sh*t. Somebody I know. Somebody I know who wants to have a conversation. Somebody I know who wants to have a conversation through masks, two meters apart and with nothing to say.

An awkward stand-off ensues. Long pauses, stutters and blank minds. As I shuffle off towards the bread, it strikes me how unusual this is. It won’t surprise you to learn, as somebody who harks on for a living, that I am quite good at small talk. I always have something on hand to fill the gaps. And now… I don’t.

Truth is, it’s not the first time I have stumbled at this simplest of hurdles. And it’s not just because I have nothing to say for myself. I do, in fact, have lots to say. I host hours of talk radio every week, podcasts, seminars, panels… heck, here I am right now, saying something for myself. I have lots to say – but I am losing the skill of saying it.

I am – simply – out of practice. A year of limited social interactions has set me back. And if I’m struggling, imagine how others are getting on?

Small talk is important. It’s good for us. My Mum, on one of our regular Zoom calls, observed how much she still missed me, despite us having more contact than ever. It was the aimless chit chat that she missed. The passing the time of day. Those conversations are the roots of a relationship. And I really miss them, too.

Last week, the BBC’s political correspondant Chris Mason told me in an interview just how important those passing chats are for him. Frustrated at being cut off from Westminster’s corridors of power, he explained the importance of the incidental conversation. These days, when you speak to somebody outside your household, it’s usually on the phone or via Zoom. Those conversations require a purpose. You ring somebody up for a reason. And yet, so many stories or important journalistic insights come from bumping into an MP or a minister by accident. And right now, that isn’t happening.

There is a more serious side to this shift in the way we communicate. As rapid advances in technology alter the way work – and, heck, society – operates, our ability to communicate is what will set us apart from the robots. With information at our finger tips and automation changing the jobs market, knowledge is no longer power. Emotional intelligence and your social skills become the most valuable currency. It begs the question, why are we bothering to teach our children how many wives Henry VIII had when subjects of expression like art and drama are, arguably, becoming more important.

BPP University Law School have recognised this and added ‘small talk’ to their courses. Students will be taught the art and value of using small talk to open doors, close deals and create a better connection.

This weekend, communications coach Kate Cocker joins us to consider this, and give us her top tips for regaining the art of small talk after lockdown. Kate is a good friend and a fascinating person. I’m looking forward to introducing you to her.

A decent level of communication has been lacking in the debate about Shamima Begum – dominated by reactionary chest-banging from some and a failure to see it’s complexity from others.

It is a complex case that requires us to separate our disdain for somebody who has wronged us with the right and requirement to give them a fair and proper trial. It could be argued that as tempting as it may be to shun her, that doesn’t look much like justice. To bring her home, to put her on trial, to punish her for her crimes, does more to ensure the safety of our country and the justice for her victims.

It’s not just our safety, either. International aid organisations have warned that stripping problematic citizens of their right to return puts an unfair burden on the place they eventually end up. She has to end up somewhere. It’s been suggested that Begum should retreat to Bangladesh, but Bangladesh has a far weaker judicial infrastructure and security services. You risk making an already struggling country weaker by dumping our problems on them.

And if that wasn’t complex enough, there is the issue of her citizenship. Should a politician have the right to strip somebody – anybody – of their citizenship? The UN don’t think so. Brace yourself, I’m about to quote the UN declaration of human rights at you. I used to interview popstars, you know?

Article 15:

(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of their nationality nor denied the right to change their nationality.

This is not easy. It can be hard to wrap your head around the fact that what looks at first glance like an act of weak will, is in fact a flex of strength and justice.

The Supreme Court disagree. This morning, they concluded that Shamima Begum is not entitled to return to the UK and appeal to revoking of her citizenship. Although, the ruling comes on the basis that security services told the Supreme Court they couldn’t guarantee they’d be able to keep an eye on her if she did. Which is hard to argue with.

It’s a fascinating story – wherever you stand on it. It tests all of our instincts. This weekend, we’ll speak to filmmaker Joshua Baker. Joshua has produced and presented several documentaries on ISIS brides, spent time in Syria with terrorists and has spoken to Shamima Begum himself. Through all the noise, his is the insight that’s really worth listening to. We’ll consider what this ruling means for her… and for us.

Also this week: we’ve talked a lot about the benefits and drawbacks of working from home. A new report has found that workers have lost out on £24 billion of overtime, through unpaid labour in 2020. That’s those extra couple of hours you do a week, because your desk is in the spare bedroom and there isn’t much else going on and… well, why not? While it’s understandable in the short term, if working from home is going to become a regular fixture, it could become a problem for workers and businesses alike. And as hit sitcom Frasier returns, we’ll take a look at the risk of the revival. The shows that did it well and those that fell flat. Is there a secret to getting it right?

See you in the morning.

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