On Being Short

Far removed from the ideals of tall men and tall buildings in America, a Dutch-Spanish study recently concluded that short men are more prone to jealousy than their towering counterparts. And since I’m a vertically challenged guy myself (5’7″ on my driver’s license; 5’5″ in my bare feet if you resort to using a sophisticated device like a tape measurer), I’m compelled to respond.

Researchers at the University of Groningen and the University of Valencia essentially determined that the shorter a guy is, the stronger his feelings of jealousy are. That emotion covers everything from power to wealth to attractiveness. And while I believe the study to be somewhat true, I also believe that most vertically challenged men climb their way out of jealousy into a state of increased motivation and determination. I know I have.

Ever since preschool (the time frame where everyone is closest in height), I’ve often found myself on the “short end of things.” I was always in the running for the title of shortest student in my class…. except for the times when a female classmate hadn’t hit puberty yet and I beat her out by an inch or two. It bothered me early on when some of my higher-altitude classmates badgered with me with every name in the book: shrimp, shorty, small fry, midget, dwarf, pee-wee, half-pint, runt. In an ironic twist, I refused to stoop to their level. They might have been higher off the ground, but I wanted to be the bigger person.

Every time I hear a short joke now, I laugh. The average height of American males is somewhere around 5’9″; I’m obviously below that, and I don’t need to hear the word “shrimp” to remind me of it. I’m 5’7″ (okay, 5’5″ if you want to be all scientific and precise) and I’m fine with that. I’m not jealous of my taller counterparts, and in time, every vertically challenged fellow with a level head will come to the same conclusion.

As motivation, I keep in mind an inventory of shorter guys who reached tall expectations: Houdini (5’5″), Mel Brooks (5’5″), Michael J. Fox (5’4″), Picasso (5’4″), Muggsy Bogues (5’3″), Sammy Davis, Jr. (5’3″), Paul Simon (5’2″), James Madison (5’4″), Dustin Hoffman (5’6″), Danny DeVito (5’0″), and of course, Moe, Larry, and Curly (all under 5’5″). Height is relative. Put these guys in Herzegovina (average height: 6’1″) and everyone would be looking down at them. Put them in North Korea (average height: 5’5″) and they’d see eye to eye with the entire country (and by the way, I would have included North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, who’s 5’6″ on a good day, but I don’t consider nuclear weaponry, a bouffant hair-do and a collection of 20,000 VHS tapes to be significant contributions to mankind).

Two quotes about height have stuck with me to this day. When someone was razzing me in junior high gym class one day, my teacher stepped in and commented, “You know, it’s not the size of dog in the fight that matters; it’s the size of fight in the dog.” That saying, which has often been attributed to Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin, has reminded me of my determination when I face seemingly-huge challenges.

Later on, a second quote stuck with me. My Grandma Siver, who never reached the 5’0″ plateau, passed away in 2000. At her funeral, our pastor eulogized her by saying, “She was a small woman with a big heart.” I sat in that pew and thought to myself, “If my grandma threw her height aside and lived a big-hearted, meaningful life, then why can’t I do the same?”

All the time, newspaper reports and research studies remind us that taller people generally have better jobs and higher salaries and more power. On average, statistics may prove these to be true, but shorter people are out to prove them wrong.

Surely, I don’t want to equate the problems of the vertically challenged with those of minorities; however, there is a similarity. Much like minorities are sometimes wrongly judged by a physical characteristic (skin color), shorter people are also wrongly judged by a physical characteristic (height). The physical traits that make us all unique should not be used as an excuse to treat someone like a lower life form.

To sum it up, being short can often be a tall order. But given the chance, I wouldn’t trade my 5’5″ altitude or my 5’5″ attitude for anything in the world.

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