Thursday, June 05, 2014

Far Afield (your e-mail, part two)

First off, David Byron sent me a link to how Houdini felt about being 5'5"::
It is good for me that I am not a tall man. Why? Because I must be quick! and a tall man is always slow. It is so all through the profession. The best men are not too high. A tall man is easy going, good-natured; a short man is sometimes good-tempered, more often not so. All the mean, cunning men that I have known—short! All the keen, eager, ambitious men—short! And for work—the tall man has too much to carry, he is too far from the ground, he cannot lose and recover balance as it is necessary, in a flash.

Also, and some of you already know this, but Napoleon was not actually short, at least by the standards of his times. He was actually taller than the average Frenchman. So there's another twist.

First off today, from Chris Volny:
I don't believe I am/was considered short, 5'10", however, I use a wheelchair which puts my eye level generally at chest level. I do not in any way think of myself as overly aggressive, in fact my people (children, wife, friends) think the exact opposite; sometimes I'm told it is impossible to actually get me to act aggressively even when the need arises. 

I can confirm the interesting study you quoted; when I'm in a crowd I get very paranoid and believe I'm being stared at and dark thoughts are being generated towards me. It takes an effort to remind myself that there are thousands of people moving about in these crowds and it is highly unlikely that anyone is thinking any particular thoughts about me in particular. But it still happens that I feel that way.

I question the validity of that study, however, as fun as it probably was. How does making an average or tall person short indicate the existence of Short Man Syndrome? It strikes me that this is something that would be developed over a lifetime and the individual has no opportunity to ever be other than short. Whereas, a tall person simulating shortness knows that he is not short and never will be. 

When I'm in a crowd, I feel so anonymous that I might as well not exist. Not a bad thing, necessarily--I'd be very self-conscious if I didn't feel that way--but reading about how people feel conspicuous is another facet of this subject that never even crossed my mind. 

C Lee. followed up yesterday's e-mail with an even more excellent one today:
I think you're right that social conventions play a key role in creating these concepts of gentle giants and Napoleon Syndrome. Height is inextricably linked to authority. The linkage can be basic, as in "bigger person must be a stronger person," but there are probably also deeper associations. For example, the British nobility (and I imagine the nobility in most countries) tended to be taller than the hoi polloi simply due to better nutrition. Over time, height equaled power and influence. It's well known that most American presidents are above average in terms of height; obviously you need more than height to become president, but it generally doesn't hurt your image.

And image can be everything when it comes to authority. Remember this photo?
MacArthur and Hirohito

As the site notes, that was the picture worth a thousand words. With MacArthur towering over Hirohito, it was pretty clear who was in charge, and needless to say, it wasn't the shorter man.

So if height=power, then, on the basis of "power corrupts," you wouldn't be surprised if a tall man threw his weight around. A polite, considerate tall person, on the other hand, becomes a pleasant surprise, and hence gentle giants become noteworthy.

We see this sort of thing with royalty or celebrities. What do people generally say, provided they aren't complete jerks? "Oh, he was so nice; oh, she's so down to earth." We expect them to behave badly and are pleasantly surprised when they don't. Conversely, a non-aggressive non-celebrity or non-royal gets no credit for not being a diva; in fact, we would be taken aback if Joe Blow started throwing his weight around. Hence, Napoleon Syndrome, and no "gentle gnomes".

I never even though about nutritional access tied to royalty, but that is a terrific connection to make.

Last e-mail for today, from Jeremy G.:
I work at an insurance broker that has a lot of men in business -- the tall men react to the women, the women are always shorter, etc. etc. , and "short person syndrome" is totally a thing.  I don't think it's gender specific.

It's even more interesting in the gay community.  In New York City, for example, they have a tall-people-only gathering because tall people usually find short people have a lot of hang-ups and other tall people are normally in awe of extra-tall people.   "Heightism" is totally a thing on Grinder, the location-based hookup app:  guys regularly there post  "only guys taller than me" as an attribute they are looking for.  They want to be submissive and perceive tall guys as more dominant.

I think you're right in that selective memory is at play here.  I consider myself a strong, dominant man but am short -- I get labeled with a Napoleonic complex because I'm short.  But if I were a foot taller - then I would be a "strong, confident man".  My boyfriend, for instance, is 6'7", and he's the submissive one in our relationship.  (I say that in terms of our gender roles / relationship roles / sexual roles inclusive.)  Was I attracted to him because he is a gentle giant that totally stokes my Napoleonic complex??   I have often wondered this.

I could go on forever about dominance perception, but I, personally, being only 5'6" have been discriminated against because of my height, never mind the fact that I'm gay.  But I'm also young-looking for my age, something short people have in common, so people might also be confusing it with neophyte syndrome or youth-misperception.  Lots of factors!

This topic has been so interesting that it may run into next week; I can't believe how much it's given me to think about. Thanks very much to all of you who e-mailed.

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