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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Can we talk?

Little tribute in that headline to Joan Rivers, who might appreciate this if she weren't ailing:

The Oxford Dictionaries comes out each winter and give an award to the Word of the Year. Others expand the WoTY concept to include a phrase of the year. Lately, however, I’ve been finding that there’s something missing from this system of honorifics. We need some sort of Deleted Phrase of the Year, letting everyone know that a phrase has simply been beaten to death, jumped the shark and reached the end of the line. And the first phrase we need to do away with is, we need to have a national conversation.

When Robin Williams took his own life, we needed a national conversation on depression. In the wake of the Ferguson riots we had to have a national conversation on race, not to mention the pressing need for a national conversation on police brutality. There are even calls for a national conversation on airline seats. (What we really need is somebody to invent a teleportation device.) And, of course, every tragic accident involving a weapon requires a national conversation on getting rid of guns.

The funny thing about this grossly overused and exhausted snippet of language is that it inevitably comes from politicians and televised talking heads… precisely the people who are not in a position to have a conversation with anyone. You see, the entire concept behind a “conversation” is the back and forth aspect of it, with multiple people contributing to the discussion. But the people barking at you from podiums and news set desks are broadcasting, not conversing. What they really mean is that they don’t like the way that far too many of the hoi polloi are thinking and they want to correct you.

The writer goes on to point out that we already do have national conversations, all the time. But they bubble up from our individual conversations, in bars and around dinner tables, at work and online. When has there ever been one that took hold after being imposed from the top down? "We need to have a national conversation" is in the same league as "This is a teachable moment," uttered by people who are certain only they know what we should be talking about and what we should learn by the teachable moments only they can identify.