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By Ted Galdi

Copyright 2019
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The text message from his wife was weird.

Did you see a cockroach this morning? she wrote.

He and she usually wake up at the same time every day, eight AM, however today was

different. Cory Galloway, a thirty-eight-year-old self-help guru, had to get up early for a

speaking engagement at the Miami stop of American Visions Exchange, commonly called AVE,

a coast-to-coast, city-hopping gathering of recognized thought leaders debating trending topics

across business, politics, technology, and culture. The cockroach text message came in after he

arrived at the amphitheater, at 9:28 AM, two minutes before the first of his two scheduled


Mandated to turn his phone off before stepping onstage, Cory hasn’t had the chance to

write her back for clarification of her bizarre question, which crawls across the front of his mind

as he sits in front of three thousand spectators.

Did you see a cockroach this morning? No, he didn’t. He hasn’t talked to his wife Linda

since last night, in the twenty minutes or so between sex and sleep. If they haven’t interacted

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since then, what would give her the idea he saw anything at all this morning out of the ordinary,

bug or otherwise?

“Ignorance is a weapon of mass destruction,” Cory says into a mini microphone clipped

to the lapel of his suit, his words emitting from the dozens of speakers on the amphitheater’s

walls and projecting down to the audience, many clapping at his line. “And we need to stop it

from spreading.”

Typically he relishes the sound of live applause. His main platform is an inspirational

podcast he hosts, his accelerant to fame the last five years, which reaches millions, though on a

one-way path of communication, preventing him from experiencing the reactions to his

proclamations. An in-person crowd is different. The nodding heads, the smiling faces, the

banging hands reward him with a visceral validation that’s thrilling. Since he doesn’t like

spending time away from Linda on the conference circuit, he only opts for events in their home

state of Florida, restricting him to two or three annually, each a true treat.

However, today’s doesn’t conjure the pleasure it should, pensive Cory Galloway

consumed with his wife’s text message and its troubling implications. Like him, Linda is an

intellectual, an economics PhD who writes for magazines and journals in a home office one room

over from his podcast recording studio. She’d be here today supporting him if not for a

publishing deadline tomorrow. More intelligent, analytical, and literal than him, she would not

message him about a cockroach unless she had a reason. Unless she had evidence he encountered

a bug. Which he didn’t. The question is so unlike her it provokes questions of victimization in

him. Is something wrong with her? Is she having delusions? If so, from what? Could it be a

tumor? Her aunt died of cancer when they began dating. Is Linda next?

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Grant Heath, Cory’s onstage debate opponent, a puffy, red-cheeked man in his sixties

who runs a popular political-commentary website called Lady Liberty, says into the microphone

attached to his dandruff-sprinkled button-down shirt, “I’m not ignorant, Mr. Galloway. I’m a

realist. Certain people are just bad seeds. You can’t change them.”

“The word ‘bad’ is more of a problem than the people it describes,” Cory says. “We’re

too quick to blame as a society. Too quick to judge our fellow citizens. The consequences of that

can destroy lives. A child who’s labeled ‘bad student’ at a young age is susceptible to consider

badness part of his or her identity and grow up to fulfill a bleak destiny, to be a bad adult.”

“What if that kid is actually a bad student, though? We should lie and tell him he’s a

genius? Build him up so reality can harshly yank him back down?”

Cory chuckles. “I’m not promoting lying, Mr. Heath. I’m just suggesting we hold back on

the judgment. Keep it to ourselves. Especially in the era of social media, where a lot of bitter

people use a lot of rotten names. In my book Compassion Out of the Comfort Zone I discuss how

difficult yet critical it is for us to recognize just how little we know about others. Maybe

someone isn’t a model citizen because he or she was born into a terrible social situation. Grew up

in poverty. Or with a sick parent. Or no parents at all, bouncing around unloving orphanages. If

you constantly tell someone like that how bad of a person he or she is, either directly or

indirectly through categorical labels like your website uses with liberty…” Many in the audience

cheer at this Lady Liberty pun. Cory waits for them to quiet down, then continues, “That person

is going to consider life a lost cause. He or she won’t reform.”

“Your words are like teddy bears. Warm and fuzzy, but not real. We should just blindly

have compassion for everyone? If someone is born into poverty, of course I understand they’re at

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a disadvantage. But many other people are born into fine families in fine towns and go on to be

serial killers. What about them? Do they deserve compassion too?”

“All I’m advocating is an open mind,” Cory says, steepling his hands. “Do you believe

people want to be serial killers? Of course not. Their biology makes them that way. Their brains

don’t look like yours or mine. Regions are structurally different. We all get a bit testy when

we’re hungry. That’s neurochemicals at play, secretions dictated by our brains. Now amplify this

effect by a hundred. A thousand. Testiness becomes rage. And imagine being hungry with rage

all the time. That’s how a serial killer goes through life. They didn’t ask to have brains like this.

They were simply born with them.”

Grant Heath adjusts his slightly loose glasses, pushing them a smidge higher up his nose.

“You preach like you’re this champion of humanity. Yet, from what I’m hearing on the stage this

morning, it seems like you don’t believe in humanity’s greatest gift. Free will. According to you,

we’re not responsible for our own decisions at all. They’re simply functions of where we were

born and how our brains were programmed. We have no say in nature. Or nurture. If this means

we’re undeserving of judgment, it must also mean we don’t own our own choices, correct?”

“Of course I believe in free will. Our choices belong to us and only us. I’m simply saying

we should refrain from rushing to conclusions and labeling others because of their choices.

Think of personal development as a race. When you cross the finish line, you’re a well-adjusted

citizen. Some of us cross it quickly and easily at a young age. For others, based on their unique

situations, they’re forced to run that race with weights on their backs. They make their own

choices. Decide how to stride. When to stride. All of it. But they have no say in these weights on

their backs. Weights from a subpar childhood. Or subpar biology. And when we judge, we’re

just piling more pounds on. Which helps nobody. Not them. And not us. Because it’s in our best

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interest as a society to have as many people as possible on the other side of the finish line. When

one of us wins, we all do.”

A spirited ovation ensues. Amid the uproar, Grant Heath’s eyes tilt downward. Though

nobody is officially keeping score, Cory Galloway just won this debate. But he doesn’t care. The

husband’s only concern is the wellbeing of his wife, which is still debatable.

He can feel his phone in his pocket, compressed against the top of his right thigh in the

pocket of his fitted suit pants. He wants to grab it. Wants to turn it on and text Linda and

hopefully receive an explanation that rids him of the turmoil the cockroach question infested him

with. However, he can’t.

The device remains close by yet tucked away for another hour and ten minutes, while the

moderator winds down the one-on-one back-and-forth and the audience engages the two

speakers in a Q and A, a promised perk attached to their ninety-nine-dollar admission tickets.

Finally, Cory stands. He shakes Grant Heath’s hand and slips backstage, fishing his

phone from his pocket. While event employees in headsets bustle around him, Cory presses

down on the power button of his phone. His eyes fixate on the screen, its black lifelessness soon

replaced with the glow of the Apple logo.

“You were like a Carnegie Hall musician up there,” he hears in his right ear. Glancing the

direction of the comment, Cory sees Sharon Weinberg, his publicist. “You hit every note. At just

the right time. Powerful and emotional. A virtuoso.” A yoga-bodied, twenty-nine-year old blonde,

Sharon looks both professional and sexy in jeans and a blazer, her laminated backstage-access

badge dangling just below the tasteful view of cleavage her V-neck tee shirt offers.

“Thanks,” he says with a modest grin, his gaze still on the still-powering-up phone.

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