Coca Cola in their eminent benign wisdom have announced today that they want to have a ‘conversation’ – presumably with all of us – about the effects their ‘drinks’ are having on the obesity ‘epidemic’ which is sweeping all before it. Whether you hang out in the streets of Manila, watching the street urchins carve out their financial futures from those omnipresent red and and white tins; or you stock break in Frankfurt whilst watching millions of people’s financial futures drop off imaginary cliffs whilst supping your caffeine free, sugar free, value free ‘drink’, Coca Cola want to engage you in a ‘conversation’ about your drinking habits.
The notion of the ‘conversation’ has crept up on all of us across the world it seems, most notably in many public sector bodies who have liked its liberal, paternalistic overtones for years. It is frequently attached to a similarly slippery notion, that of ‘the offer’. “Here you are,” they smile, “here is our ‘offer’ to you and we would like to have a ‘conversation’ with you about it.” If you’re really lucky, there may be some ‘drilling down’ into ‘the offer’ as a way of extending ‘the conversation’.
The benign idea that somehow this multi-trillion private sector is going to sit down at some kind of large kitchen table and enquire about our collective health and worry about our expanding waist lines, fatty livers and soaring blood pressure is not an image which is particularly convincing.
Trouble is, a ‘conversation’ usually depends on one person in dialogue with another which wrestles out meaning between the two of them: meaning which wasn’t there in the first place and has been constructed through that wrestling match. It’s not about one person insisting that their monologue is somehow more important than the other persons; and that if person B could somehow get their thick head around the sense and logic and inexorable correctness of what person A is saying then person B would be a lot better off, healthier, more intelligent and most crucially a better behaved consumer.
And that’s the main problem with the ‘conversation’ wherever you hear it. It’s perpetrators want to modify your behaviour, whilst not modifying their own contribution to that behaviour. Their ‘conversation’ is more frequently their monologue masquerading as a dialogue with you nodding in agreement to all their wisdom. Just two words are needed to change this nature of the modern day ‘conversation’ and neither of them include the words ‘Yes, please.’