The best compliment wasn't about my hair

A colleague stopped by my classroom the other day. She approached my desk and said, "I know this probably doesn't mean anything to you. I know you don't really care about physical appearance and things like that, but I wanted you to know that I really like your haircut."

This was an amazing compliment. One of the best compliments I've received in a long time.

And it had nothing to do with my hair. 

Instead, this colleague acknowledged that she knew me. Really knew me. 

She knows that except for my wife, children, and mother-in-law, I never compliment physical appearance. In my effort to reduce the obsessive amount of attention we pay to the way someone looks, I refrain from all of these comments and instead compliment words and deeds only. 

She also knows that in addition to this policy, I also take little personal stock in physical appearance. While I would certainly like to appear attractive, she knows that when it comes to things like clothing and hair, utility, comfort, and efficiency are my primary motivators, far exceeding anything related to the way I look. 

I know, for example, that if I wore a jacket and tie on occasion, certain people would appreciate this look and think it attractive. But I reject neckties as ridiculous, pointless, decorated nooses strapped around the necks of men who are conforming to senseless, arcane, sometimes dangerous tradition.  

And if I'm going to wear a jacket, it's probably going to be a hoodie. At the very least it will be something with good pockets. A traditional suit jacket doesn't even keep you warm on a cold day. Many of the pockets are decorative only. 

I rarely wear a traditional jacket, and I threw my neckties away years ago because I prize utility, efficiency, and comfort over physical appearance. I would rather preserve my precious time, achieve more as a result, and feel better while doing so than have someone think that the bit of cloth wrapped around my neck, designed and fashioned by someone other than me, somehow makes me look more attractive.  

That strikes me as ludicrous and absurd. It makes no sense. 

This colleague, who I have worked with for years, knows this about me. 

She knows me.

As a storyteller and a writer of blog posts, newspaper columns, and a hopefully soon-to-be-published memoir, I speak and write to be known. I stand on stages and share my most personal, embarrassing, frightening, and intimate moments in an effort to have others understand who I am. To connect with me. To know me.


My colleague wanted to compliment my haircut, but instead, she offered me something far more meaningful. She told me that she understood me as a human being. She understood my personal philosophy. My primary motivation. My nonconforming eccentricities.  

She knows me. Far beyond my haircut or clothing choices, she knows me as a human being.  

That was a compliment that meant something to me. It meant a whole lot.

And it had nothing to do with my hair.