Have you ever judged someone based on their appearance?
I have, and I’ve been right...most of the time.
We escaped the storm on Magnolia beach and headed towards Dallas. My uncle Moe lived in the area with his wife. Moe is smart, patient, resilient, and kind. He left Morocco at 18 years old to study in Germany. He spoke no german, had no money, and no other support than his hard-won paychecks. He became a chemical engineer and then moved to the US and got a Ph.D. He was a humble, self-made man who was congratulated by GW Bush for his work in the scientific field. I admired him. As a kid, Moe was my hero.
On our last night in Dallas, Moe planned a diner out with his in-laws. He warned me about Al, his brother in-law. “He’s quite a character”, he said. I was intrigued.
Al was big, even by Texan standards. That night, he wore a US cap with the word “FREEDOM” on it, grey sweat pants, and a XXXL t-shirt. He was the Muricaaaa caricature in real life.
Al stepped out of his car, and with great difficulty, dragged himself to the restaurant table. Every move he made seemed like a herculean effort, even breathing. I was torn between pity and disgust. It was painful to watch him…exist.
I’ve never had a real conversation with an obese person before, often blaming ignorance or a toxic environment for their condition. Al was far beyond fat, he was morbidly obese. This was an opportunity to talk to him and understand. How does one become like that?
I wanted to make Moe look good. His in-laws grew up in a conservative Lebanese family, where good manners are of utmost importance. If I were to ask personal or embarrassing questions, I had to do it with great care, without a hint of offense or disrespect.
My plan was to test the waters and see how Al would react. Once on familiar grouds, I could become more intrusive. Before engaging on any topic, Al made it a point to define the environment and context of the debate. In the world of competitive debating, they call that “framing”. Framing the debate ensures debaters stay on track with the topic at hand. What’s more, he presented his arguments with flawless logic and backed all his statements with accurate data. I even googled some of them in the bathroom to douclecheck he wasn’t full of shit.
I asked about his background. Al graduated with honors from an Ivy League university. Then, he led a successful career as an engineer for a few major IT firms. He proceeded to quit his job to start a consulting business and was doing well for himself. On top of that, Al was happily married and vegetarian. I still don’t know which of these two surprised me the most.
Al used to be a vehement activist, using his time and resources to raise money for the democrats. With Obama, he thought there would be significant changes to the system. After eight years of disappointment with the democrats, he ended up switching teams. Al had become ultra-republican, campaigned for Trump, and started selling guns. I was blown away. How the fuck does one become like that?
Al educated me about guns, gun laws, and the NRA in the US. The main difference between the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other lobbyist organizations comes from its members. NRA members are much more committed than any other industry lobbyists (pharma, real estate, agro etc.). They mobilize grassroots support by targeting every stakeholder locally.
The NRA organizes rallies, conventions, and events to touch base with its supporters on a regular basis. They use effective manipulation techniques that work well with the masses; the protection of the second amendment being the most popular. In the end, the NRA is simply a better marketer than its competitors.
Al knew the topic inside out. Even though I disagreed with him on an ethical standpoint, I could not dismiss his rationale. His logic was flawless. The NRA made it look so the freedom to have a gun was more valuable than life itself. Innocents dying in mass shootings every day were not going to change that. How could the life of a child ever compare to the almighty dollar?
The Guardian depicted the sad situation in great details. Comedian Jim Jefferies illustrated the irony of the gun control debate by comparing the right to own a gun with the right to own a slave. He used the same arguments slave masters used not so long ago. Brilliant.
We debated the whole evening, from business to lifestyle and philosophy. Al pushed my buttons on various occasions, which encouraged me to be bolder. I fought well but he had the upper hand in most topics. If we were in a debating competition, he would have crushed me. Al had both the knowledge and the style. We sympathized over our differences and agreed to disagree. He even offered me a job…selling guns! I told him I would consider it if I ever lost my soul, or maybe before suicide.
By the end of the night, I had a completely different opinion of him. Not only was he smarter, more educated, and more knowledgeable than me, Al was also remarkably aware. He knew all the repercussions of his life habits on himself and the people around him. Yet, he was indulging them. He was just another addict!
The saying don’t judge a book by its cover has never held so true.