Short man’s burden

One thing us short guys are constantly contending with is the saintly, heroic qualities imbued upon tall men merely by virtue of their genetic height, and conversely, the weakness and cowardice presumed to live in the hearts of short men (also, by virtue of their genetic lack of height).

As a society, we are guided by strong dichotomous perceptions of very tall and very short men, and this continuous feedback loop of expectations and behaviors often creates the exact personalities that society expects, thus reinforcing the circular cycle of preordained personality height characteristics.

Not only must short men fight their stature’s egregious conspicuousness, they are left to disprove preconceived notions that previous generations of short men have left behind. To be short is to literally fight your way out of a hole in order to attain even minimally equal standing in the eyes of society.

I was reminded of this passage from Candice Millard’s “Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President”, a chronicle of the life and assassination of President James A. Garfield in 1881.

Millard describes the moments prior to the shooting at the Baltimore and Potomac train station in the nation’s capital where the deranged assassin, Charles Guiteau, waited nervously for the appearance of the President who, with his two sons, was about to board a train which would take him to New England where he would meet his wife and daughter. Millard writes:

As Garfield entered the station, Sarah White, the matron for the ladies’ waiting room, looked up from her position next to the room’s heater. She watched as the president and secretary of state strode by, Blaine slightly ahead of Garfield, Harry and Jim trailing behind them. Garfield walked with an easy, natural confidence—“absolutely free from any affectation whatever.”

He must have made a striking contrast to Guiteau, whom White had also been watching that morning. Not only was Guiteau nearly half a foot shorter than the president and seventy-five pounds lighter, but he seemed as uncomfortable and nervous as Garfield was at ease. As he shuffled soundlessly between the gentlemen’s and ladies’ waiting rooms, his shoulders bent, his head tilted at an odd angle, and his dark slouch hat sitting low over his eyes, Guiteau had seemed suspicious to White. “He would look in one door and pass on to the next door and look in again,” she remembered. “He walked in the room once, took off his hat, wiped his face, and went out again.”

Note the archetypal short man’s burden swimming through this narrative. The taller (six feet tall, in this case) man is angelic and brave and the pinnacle of self-assured masculinity, whereas the short man is nervous, skittish and suspicious. And of course, the short man is sneaky and dangerous, and in the case of Guiteau’s assassination of Garfield, all the standard height roles fulfilled themselves to our utmost expectations.

A tad melodramatic, perhaps, but the repetitious plot follows the short man throughout his life. His born role is that of mongrel, and he is further debilitated by society’s concomitant instinctive adoration and worship of the tall man. The difference between the tall man and the short man becomes more than just a matter of a few inches: it becomes a vast, inhuman gulf that bisects two circles of existence.

The short man must act tall but in order to do so, he must first learn not to succumb to popular notions that he has no control over. The short man must strongly shape his own reality before the larger reality he lives in drowns him. The short man must not be overly conscious of this for this also becomes embarrassingly obvious.