An Uncomfortable Exchange

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At precisely 9:32 PM, weary from the uncomfortable tension of eye contact, he flipped on the television.

Just some minutes before, he had been up on a lectern, standing next to a large projector with an above-average PowerPoint presentation blazing on the screen. In front of him was a sea of impressionable college students, some slumped into their arm and looking at the wall, letting his delicately chosen words simmer and boil, others attentively gazing at him speaking, glancing down occasionally to take an eager note or ask a well-meaning question. Sixty dutiful minutes of talking and engaging and discussing.

And for all intents and purposes, it was a great performance.

That's when the coffee table started buzzing.

He reached out, fumbled for his phone, and hastily grabbed it by the sleeve, turning over to see who was calling.

Oh fuck.

Hesitantly, he offered a hello to the speaker at the other end. A friendly one, though the veneer of politeness and precision had long dissolved after the lectern.

"Greetings, sir," the speaker addressed. "I'm calling you right now to inquire you about —"

"Oh, the discussion?" he quipped. "Is that up already? 'Cause I thought it would've taken a couple of hours to edit everything together and upload it and —"

"Enough," barked the speaker. "That's beside the point. I'm here to talk about your speech."

"Oh? You here to congratulate me? Here to give me a pat on the back and tell me good job? Please, just get to the point. I'm trying to relax here and get myself rested here, okay."

"No, unfortunately, quite the opposite. Looking over your performance tonight, we just have to say it was… less than stellar."

He freezed. He wasn't sure what to think about what he just heard.

"M-my performance? What about it?" he stammered, unable to keep his composure. "I-I mean, looking back at it I don't think I had anything technically bad happen. Didn't flub any lines, didn't lose any of the debates. What do you think went wrong?"

"Sir, put frankly, it just isn't enough," continued the speaker. "Sure, you're making arguments, and you're quick on your feet. But the thing is, it really isn't holding up too well, your arguments. You're not that convincing."

"Well, apologies, mister, if I have a hard time convincing ultra-libs at Arizona State that the death penalty is something worth considering, okay? It's a hard thing to do. Maybe stop critiquing me on something which is never gonna change. 'Cause it isn't."

"No, no, that's not it. Even people who are already on board are losing track of you. You're just too boring for them, and they're losing interest. And sure, it might be a small thing in the short term, but in the long term, this means disaster for pretty much everything the Foundation stands for."

"Jeez," he refuted. "Don't get all piped up about it. Just tell me what I'm doing wrong. I'm sure I can fix it."

"For example," the speaker offered, "You need to engage with your audience more. Even if it's students who haven't had a day of debating experience in their lives, talking to them will help with convincing more people that our arguments are worth listening to. After all, if it wins arguments, it's gotta hold up elsewhere."

"So… you want me to rile up more people like that? Interacting with them, bringing them down, and getting them to accept the death penalty? And all that for what?"

"Exactly, that's what we need from you," agreed the speaker. "Acceptance of the death penalty is at an all-time low for this country, so if we want to keep receiving inmates for the betterment and structural integrity of the Foundation, we need people like you to keep others on board. So we don't lose a sizable portion of our personnel to legal whims."

"Alright, I think I'm getting what you're saying," he followed. "Well, I appreciate the call, I'll try to keep that into consideration. And while I'm at it, we have a debate in Phoenix coming up. Hopefully I can try some of that out."

"Indeed," the speaker replied. "Your enthusiasm is much appreciated."

And with that, the speaker hung up.

He tossed the phone back off the coffee table and refocused on the television, the contents of the conversation already starting to leave his mind. Some of that frankly emotional rant was needed, he pondered, but in all honesty, he did do a pretty great job.

After all, facts don't care about your feelings.

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