"I just don't 'see' Sam," he explained to me. He needed to see all of a man's face when he looked him in the eye. With more than half the face hidden by the beard he found himself unable to assess Sam's character and decide what to make of him. At least he was self-aware enough to realize that it was as much his own problem as it was Sam's.
It's not an uncommon problem in our culture. There's even a name for it. Pognophobia. Fear of beards.
There was a bit of a kerfuffle at the BBC earlier this year when Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman came back from his summer holidays sporting a beard. The reaction from the public and his employer led Paxman to accuse his employer of pognophobia. Why shouldn't a news presenter have a beard? Does a beard make him less credible?
Is this just a fashion or is there a significant part of the population who find men with beards less trustworthy, less credible?
Politicians are generally distrusted in our culture but they must somehow find a way to convince some people to believe them and to vote for them. How many politicians have beards? Not many. Do politicians think they appear more trustworthy by being clean-shaven?
Quick, without looking it up, who was the last American president to have a beard?
Well, judging by the thumbnail sketches of presidents on Wikipedia, every president for the last 100 years has been clean-shaven. Taft and Teddy Roosevelt had rather magnificent mustaches but the last bearded president, as far as I can tell, was Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893) and before that it was James Garfield who served only a few months in 1881 before being assassinated.
Of course fashions were different in the 19th century, but in our culture today is it easier or harder for a man with a beard to get away with a lie? Why do we say "bare-faced" lie? "Bare-faced" clearly implies "open" and "unconcealed" and apparently the expression dates back to 1592. Is a lie told by a bare-faced man somehow more bold or shocking than a lie told by a bearded man? How strange is that, possum?
Why are some people prejudiced against men with beards? I must admit to a mild case of pognophobia myself. Living so close to Boston I really would like to support the Red Sox baseball team, but I find the current obsession of most of their players with wearing straggly long beards somewhat ridiculous, so I find it hard to take them seriously. (Even though they did win the World Series yesterday.)
Two Red Soxes
I did try to grow a beard myself once. It wasn't very impressive. Maybe that's why I'm a pognophobe? Perhaps I'm just jealous.
Of course there is a long tradition of beards in sailing, and the popular image of the grizzled sea dog is kept alive today by such famous sailors as Robin Knox-Johnston (first man to sail single-handed non-stop around the world) and Bruce Kirby (designer of the Laser.) I don't find myself the least bit prejudiced against these two gentleman because of their beards.
On the other hand, the US Navy currently bans beards. How weird is that?
Why is Tillerman writing about beards? Didn't this used to be a sailing blog? When are we going to hear some stories about Tillerman's adventures at the North American Laser Masters or some dirt on the whole Laser/ Torch debacle? Has Tillerman gone off the reservation? And when will Tillerman stop this annoying habit of referring to himself in the third person?