I mean that in a good way.
Something has happened. I have let my beard grow out. I've had some version of a closely cropped beard for over ten years now, but two or three months ago I decided to just let it grow for a while. And the remarkable results for me have less to do with the hair on my face, and more to do with the reactions I get. All because of a little beard.
The most common is, "I didn't recognize you." It's an honest, innocuous comment. Sometimes that statement is followed by something like, "Wow. It looks good," or, "I wish I could grow a beard like that." Nice, friendly, complimentary beard talk.
And then there are the other ones.
I have learned that when someone looks at you and says, "What made you decide to grow a beard?" the next comment is most likely not to be complimentary. There may, in fact, be no follow-up statement. Maybe just a short but awkward moment before I excuse myself by saying something like, "It's good to see you. I need to go find Wayne," or, "Where's the bar?"
But I couldn't say "Where's the bar?" the other day at our neighborhood grocery store when the cashier said, "When are you going to shave? I don't like that [beard]. I already told Wayne I think it makes you look old." All I could say was, "Thank you."
What is it about growing a little facial hair that makes people think they can say things like that to you? The beard is (at least for now) part of my personal appearance. I don't believe most folks would think it clever or charming to say something like, "What made you decide to cut your hair like that?" or "That outfit makes you look old."
Just yesterday I was accosted by two old friends (more like acquaintances, really) at different times. One felt compelled to say, "I hope I didn't offend you the other day when I told you I don't like your beard. [And this was punctuated with a tug on said beard.] But I don't like it." The other person had this to offer: "You know your beard is scraggly, right?" I looked at him incredulously and replied simply, "Thank you." Then he quickly added, "I mean that in a good way." I smiled and nodded and moved on.
I think almost every mother in the world has said some version of this to every child in the world: "If you can't say something nice... [you know the rest]." There's a lesson in this for me, boys and girls, and it has nothing to do with the grooming and maintenance of facial hair. It's this: I am going to make a conscious effort to say nice things to people. Why not? I know I'd much rather be complimented than insulted. Wouldn't you?