Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Far Afield (your e-mail, part one)

Your e-mail, as always, was thoughtful and nuanced.

The first e-mail I received was from Jeff Porretto:
I found your post today very interesting. I'm 5'4" and consider myself a short guy. No cut off needed to make that call when pretty much everyone you meet is taller!

I'm fairly successful (in a top 5 position at my company) and I've been told that I typically have a calming influence on most. I've definitely never been accused of short man syndrome, even when I do need to assert myself.  I'm astutely aware of this stereotype and actively try to not live up to it. But here's the thing... it honestly feels like it's difficult to get taken seriously at first by people much taller. I'm guessing it's that way for everyone, but it's almost impossible to feel respected when someone can look literally right over your head to another person.

So I make it a point to stand further away or be sitting when interacting with taller people. I don't think blowing my top is the way to compensate for my height. That just doesn't seem logical to me.

But I will absolutely agree with the "study showed feeling smaller makes people paranoid, distrustful and scared of others." Maybe not to the degree some others would, but when you walk away and hear people laugh, or stand in a circle and no one is within six inches of your height the negative thoughts definitely creep in. But everyone has their insecurities. This is mine. Not really a big deal!

It had never, ever crossed my mind that someone might purposefully stand further away if they were shorter. I asked Jeff how old he was when he started noticing these things:
I thought a little more about it as well. I'm 32 now, and people are naturally more respectful at this age, especially as my position commands a fair amount of respect on its own. But as a kid - once growth spurts hit - it got pretty rough at times. Kids know not to make fun of other races or genders, but fat and/or short was fair game at that age. Luckily, my parents put me in martial arts, which I excelled at and gave me a lot of confidence and taught me restraint/how to stay calm. I only got in one fight in school. It was with a bully who probably thought I'd be easy pickings, but I "handled" it well, and that was one of the last times my height got brought up :) But if I hadn't been able to defend myself well and it continued on or got worse? I can see why some short people could have anger issues!

Next is an e-mail from C. Lee, who has been one of the most consistently thoughtful and interesting e-mailers over time:
The Oxford study was interesting, but I think there’s a potential disconnect there. Suppose we grant that being short does in fact produce mistrust, paranoia, etc. What the study didn’t show was that that necessarily leads to overly aggressive or domineering behavior.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re in a foreign country where you stand out in some way -- perhaps you’re a different color, perhaps your clothes are distinctive in some way, perhaps you have interesting looking hair or piercings. If you get on a subway, you may very well feel self-conscious and the object of stares. If you were to hear laughter in that context or get jostled, you may very well think your oddness is making you a target. In other words, you might react by feeling mistrustful and paranoid.

However, it’s a bit of a stretch to say that you, as a foreigner, would react by becoming belligerent; there is not, so far as I know, a concept such as “angry foreigner syndrome.” In other words, the negative feelings don’t necessarily translate into compensatory aggression.

The Wikipedia article you linked, for example, cites this study from the University of Central Lancashire, which takes the opposite tack.

Full disclosure: I am 5’5”, which I think most people would agree is short for a man. I’ve never been accused of having a Napoleon Syndrome, but then I suppose that’s probably not the sort of thing you would generally say to someone’s face. 

This is an excellent point, and I'll refer again to "gentle giant". Are short people so expected to be gentle that there's no equivalent phrase for them? And why is it surprising that large people are gentle? I find cultural expectations like this entirely fascinating.

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