“Wow, that beard makes you look terrible! What’s going on, have you also purchased a Corvette to go with your mid-life crisis?”, my friend asked me the other day in the hallway of the speaking conference.
This evoked immediate thoughts of my first day of school, when a stranger came up in the hallway, offering the biting insult and shouted proclamation,
“You’re the ugliest person I’ve ever seen!”
That was THE sentence that stuck with me more than any other from my earliest memory of school interacting with peers, and has sadly carried over my whole life through.
I now make light of it when joking from the stage as follows:
“Mom asked how my first day of school went, I responded, “They said I’m ugly and have a big mouth.”
She said what any Mom would, “Son…you’re not ugly…”
“But you have a big mouth.”
This gets the biggest laugh of my speech, and comedy proves once again what underlies the pain we all experience in one way or another.
(The line is then followed with: “God made you that way, and you have a light to shine, my son. The light you shine is the light you receive.” Thank goodness for that kind of Mother.)
So, you can imagine the shock when friends, peers, and those I sincerely admire were walking up, unsolicited, offering me advice as to why I should shave my beard for the past 3 months.
They didn’t know the backstory, that I had a master plan and a very real reason for doing what I was doing, and yet I would not divulge the truth. I just listened. And pondered what I was experiencing.
It became a social experiment.
The Promise is more than simply a commitment to do something. It is a Promise to BE something.
The words you say, that come from the thoughts you have, if chosen to be shared, may very well break the heart of the person you are now offending with your unappreciated, unwanted opinion.
I was stunned to see how many well-meaning friends were there to give me suggestions as to how I should look, and it evoked in me a certain kind of sickness, the quick zip back in time to a place I had not longed to return:
The school hallways, the playground, the notes passed back and forth, the rejections, the whole tearing down experience that can be for so many of us what makes up our childhood interactions.
And suddenly, here I am, in the hallways of a convention as an adult, where it should be safe, where what I choose to look like, wear, or even grow on my face, now becomes of such the topic of discussion people can talk of little else.
Fast forward backstage as I await to take the stage before these same peers. One friend came up and, knowing full well I am to take the stage in minutes, and rather than instilling confidence begins berating me:
“Seriously man, what’s the deal with this beard? I mean, you have a great looking face under there, why would you hide it? I just don’t understand how you can do this, why you’d do it, what is the reason?”
I simply said, knowing he would realize it within about 10 minutes when he saw me on stage, “Everything I do has a reason, whether it be a role I’m playing or something I’m planning. I don’t see why it matters.”
Head shakes, confused look, disappointment from one of my peers and a hero of mine…
In Case You Missed It
Upon revealing the reason for the beard growing, my commitment to the bit, and shaving it off to prove the point of promise to audience, client, and craft, the crowd went bonkers. Immediately, the social media posts came with a frenzy sharing what had just transpired on stage.
I wrote a post as well, eliciting nearly 100 comments, explaining what I had just done.
The compliments on the routine came pouring in…
…and the barrage on appearance began again –
“Wow, I’m sure your wife is so grateful that thing is off your face!”
“Now I can say Thank God! Was NOT a fan of the beard.”
“You looked horrible with facial hair, have for years, good riddance!”
“Such a better look for you, Jason. Thanks for shaving!”
“I’ve been telling you for the longest time, shave that beard off, you don’t need a beard when you’re on stage.”
Truth be known, The Beard was overgrown, and these could very well all be comments of praise to a comedy guy…but that’s not how these are taken about something like this.
And now it was many people’s turn to tell me how much they had disliked the look I’ve had for the past 3 months, and even some regarding the past 3 years.
It must be what the new ex-wife feels when she finally exits and the husband’s family can now tell the truth:
“Good riddance! We never saw what you could see in her anyway! We hated her!”
A Social Experiment
In reality, none of this matters. It is silly. It’s just a simple thing, this beard experiment.
And yet it proves the point of The Promise to perfection.
Think for one moment the last time you offered unsolicited advise to a co-worker. Notice anything different in the relationship? Trust is now missing, a wedge driven between cubicles!
Recall a recent comment made to your teenager when telling them they didn’t look right in that outfit, or they missed the mark with grades, perhaps their choice of boyfriend is something you disapprove of.
Any changes in the level of engagement?
Remember the last time you told your marketing team how you really felt about their efforts that yielded few results, and they turned around to blame you for your incompetence.
Still working together? Probably not.
It’s not to say we can’t say anything, because crucial conversations are essential in life.
But I’d like to recommend we all make a Promise together.
Let’s acknowledge we don’t know the backstory.
Let’s pretend each person we interact with is actually a human being with feelings that may run deep, and with a current of sorrow underneath, right above a riptide of just barely hanging on to their self-confidence.
Let’s pretend every person with whom we interact is a precious child, even of God, no matter their age.
Heck, we can pretend all kinds of powerful premises as we come to our promises!
And so, with that, let’s Promise one thing:
Promise To Be Kind.
Promise to use words that uplift, that encourage, that acknowledge and honor.
Promise to live at a higher level and see the person for who they are, not telling them what you think they ought to become, and then go on to tear them down.
I know I’m guilty of it, and now that I’ve been on the receiving end of this experiment for 3 months with this beard on my face, I know I have a new resolve to be kind to everyone and seek to lift their spirits.
I love what my friend Heidi Totten wrote in her book, “The 12 Questions That Change Everything”:
“Are you willing to let other people be uncomfortable while you keep a Promise?”
As I was being blasted about my appearance all over social media, and now how much better I look clean shaven, in between praise for the bit, with an undertone of “Wow, you look so much better!”, I received a positive comment on the physical side of life from one – one solitary friend.
She is my friend Denyse.
Denyse has had multiple challenges since birth that have made her brave the kind of comments no person should ever have to withstand, and yet she has risen above all the naysayers and found her place as one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met – and she came to my rescue, as she must have observed the comments coming at me.
She simply wrote: “I think you look wonderful either way, and you shine from the inside my friend!”
That’s The Promise.
The Promise of someone who knows what it feels like and has resolved to only give light.
What’s Your Promise?
People ran up to Tami, my incredible wife, as she rubbed her hand against my clean shaven face, my having just received standing ovations and adulations, they proclaimed,
“Don’t you just love him so much better with a clean shaven face?”
To which she smiled, looked at me, and said, “I love him either way. But actually, I prefer The Beard.”
Same with my kids. They said the very same thing.
And guess who else prefers The Beard…
What’s your Promise to Yourself?
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