Monday, May 09, 2011

Facial Hair is not an Accomplishment

Those who know me will be surprised at the title of this post, as I am fairly hirsute. In fact, of the eight men who work at my school (eight out of fifty, yay diversity!), only two of us have beards. So it's not that I'm anti-beard by any means.

However: I don't get this.

Ephrata Middle School teacher Gary Weddle vowed on September 11, 2001 to stop shaving until Osama bin Laden was caught. 
On Monday, after almost ten years, he finally shaved off his lengthy beard.

Hooray for, uh, local news?

The school’s principal, Jill Palmquist, honored him on Monday and gave the following speech to the students: 
Ephrata Middle School would like to take a few moments today to honor and recognize a very unique individual who is among us on a daily basis.

On September 11th 2001, Gary Weddle came to school and told his science students that in support of the United States Military and for the freedoms that America stands for, he would not shave until Osama Bin Laden was captured or killed.

...For 3,454 days Mr. Weddle kept his word, faithful and true.  He endured ridicule, jokes and no doubt people telling him that his was a lost cause.  On top of that he watched daily news reports that cast doubt whether Osama Bin Laden was even still alive, or if dead his body would never be recovered.  In which case, to be true to his word Mr. Weddle would have to never shave again for the rest of his life.  
Mr. Weddle has taught us all an important lesson in faith, patriotism and endurance.  Would any of us have put ourselves on the line in such a way?  It is likely no one else in the entire world had taken such a vow. 

Yesterday, May 1st, it was announced that Osama Bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan.

Mr. Weddle, we are truly honored and humbled by your example and extremely privileged to know you.  The life lasting impact the commitment to your vow has had on over 2,000 students in the last ten years is more than a teacher could even begin imagine.  As of yesterday Facebook has come alive as your former students excitedly rejoice in the fact that you can now shave!  It might be added that our current population of students was aged two and three when you made your vow.   They are the ones to see what so many of them wanted to witness.

Thank you for your dedication, steadfastness and determination to follow through.  You are among the most dedicated, faithful and patriotic Americans we will ever have the privilege of saying that we knew.

Although you did not do this for personal glory, you can not escape the fact that we admire your dedication to our country and greatly respect you.

You are our HERO and we salute you!

Wait, wait, how could he have come to school on September 11 and said he wasn't going to shave until they caught Osama? The guy lives in Washington. School doesn't start until around 8 am Pacific time. Only a few news correspondents had even started speculating bin Laden was behind it at that point. Oh wait, that's apparently not what actually happened.

Weddle was a substitute teacher in Wenatchee when the infamous al-Qaeda terrorist attack occurred on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, killing 3,000 Americans. Weddle was so caught up in the news that he neglected to shave. A week or so later, he vowed not to shave until bin Laden was captured or proven dead. He figured it would just be a month or two.
So not only did he not make the vow until a week later, he made it assuming that it would be a minimal commitment. Oh well, no one ever accused principals of paying too much attention to their teachers. Or letting details get in the way of making a good speech. Keep on educating those kids, ma'am.

I'm sorry, but not shaving is not "putting yourself on the line." Ask any Sikh, Amish or Haredi man. Actually, come to think of it, if Weddle had decided to grow his beard AND put on a turban, that might have been a much better example of "putting himself on the line."At the very least it would have been a more interesting story.

Is this story an interesting example of ways the body can serve as a constant reminder of awareness of a particular event? Sure. Is it an "inspiring" demonstration of keeping your word? I guess. But I don't see how you go from "huh, that's a little weird" to calling this a case that's particularly patriotic or heroic. The guy just sort of fell into it. If anything this incident just shows how many people feel the need to look for "heroes" or create supposedly meaningful or inspirational narratives from cases that honestly just aren't that impressive. When did growing a beard become so noteworthy? Is it only important if you do it for ideological reasons? If so, why is patriotism or "keeping a promise" the only ideology worth paying attention to? People have been growing hair for religious and cultural reasons for thousands of years, from Jews to Rastafarians to hippies. What makes Weddle's beard so amazing?

Here's the irony: if Mr. Weddle had spent the last ten years doing something, that could have been heroic. He could have started a charity, incorporated 9/11 into his curriculum, joined the military, etc. Even working to raise awareness for victims of terror or support for the troops, etc, would have been something. I'm not saying this man isn't a good guy. He probably is. But growing a beard, even a long beard, isn't something you should get a standing ovation for. As far as an example of sacrifice or dedication, it's actually pretty uninteresting (unless you hang out with alopecia sufferers). Another irony is that in many parts of the country, having facial hair is actually a big cultural no-no and something people get flak for, especially teachers (not always without cause-- sorry, man, but between the beard and the glasses you've got a pretty loud creepy factor going on). Yet this guy did it "because of terrorism" and people are calling him a patriot and a fantastic role model. While I agree that beards are totally awesome the reality is that growing one is simply not that big a deal. And I don't get the desire of the media and Weddle's local community to turn a random promise into a heroic act.

Hat-tip to Rafi G at Life in Israel.

1 comment:

BBJ said...

I hadn't realized he was being hailed as a hero, I just saw a few articles saying that he'd done this.

I do think that if you're going to hail heroes here, the U.S. military, even without facial hair, gets into line here first.

Odd, to say the least.