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OnWords: National Conversation


Our friends in the media love to use the term “national conversation” about anything newsworthy and controversial. Lately we’ve had national conversations about sexual harassment, race, and the rights LGBT people.

I think it’s very important to talk about such things, and often it’s an indication that once taboo subjects no longer are.

But I don’t think these are really national conversations.

Mostly, pundits and self-declared experts repeat talking points on TV and regular folks share invective online.

Maybe this is a process for us to work through our feelings about hot topics. But shouldn’t a conversation actually change some minds? Shouldn’t a conversation lead to potentially unexpected realizations?

Maybe I’m asking too much both for the term “national conversation” and our ability to actually talk to each other.

Maybe we need to call these things “national conversations” in order to justify all the airtime and all the effort.

But maybe this mismatch between what we call it and what we do shows a need to stay verbally committed to the deliberation of self-governance while not really committing to change.

This brings up difficult questions: what would we need to have a real national conversation? What conversations would help us feel safe enough to embrace change?

The way forward rides on how we answer.