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I despise “small talk.”

As a general rule, I strive des­per­ately to avoid those awkward, one-dimen­sional con­ver­sa­tions that spring up unwanted as I walk around campus, wait for a class to start —any­where. Does the person I barely know antic­ipate a heartfelt, honest reply when he or she asks me “how are you today?” Does the person I know quite well expect any­thing better than time-passing drivel as we walk for just a few minutes to a building in which we have the same class, or, more fre­quently, to sep­arate buildings? I just don’t get it.

That being said, there is one subject of small talk I will­ingly tol­erate — the weather.

Far too many have rained on weather’s parade, and now nearly everyone con­siders it the most tedious, vacuous, and incon­se­quential of all con­ver­sa­tional topics. But by reminding people how important the weather is, I hope to bring sunny days back into a pos­itive light.

Weather unifies all mankind. Man views very few of his expe­ri­ences in such similar, relatable terms. Though the weather entails dif­ferent con­di­tions in various regions and places, people every­where know of “heat,” “cold,” “clouds,” “pre­cip­i­tation,” etc. The weather mea­sures out to us both gift and curse, bestowing upon all of us a uni­versal expe­rience that tran­scends pol­itics and culture. With the weather as an incipient con­ver­sa­tional bond, even strangers can dis­cover com­mon­ality.

Weather also serves as a tool of com­parison and con­trast. By what other standard besides the weather could man weigh the con­di­tions of one day against its pre­de­cessors or suc­cessors? By Jove, entire weeks, months, seasons, years, decades — even cen­turies! — it lays side by side, showing man in terms of the history of nature herself, from Ice Ages and Medieval Warming periods to harvest seasons and mon­soons.

Finally, weather is a pro­found hum­bling force. For despite the assur­ances of so-called “weath­ermen,” the weather acts however it pleases; whether through a pleasant breeze which plays upon the cheek, or a violent gust that rips homes from their very foun­da­tions. It is the organic man­i­fes­tation of the servant who fol­lowed Roman gen­erals, whis­pering into ears those words which too often men forget: “You are mortal.” What other force humbles man so?

For these reasons, and others as numerous as the rain­drops in a thun­der­storm, or the snowflakes in a blizzard, the weather deserves a better rep­u­tation. What other entity — God excepted — can so unite, assess, and humble the human race? None, I submit; rains are reins which reign over us all. So, by all means, let us talk about the weather. Even I shall speak of it gladly as I meander around campus, but may Jupiter’s lightning strike down anyone who asks me about my day.

      jbutler@hillsdale.edu