Antonie Zimmermann's version of L:ewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," with an illustration by John Tenniel.

Date 1869

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One thing no one warns you about when you’re younger is that you’re going to shrink when you get older. Of course, we’ve all heard of the “little old lady,” but no one mentions that in her youth she used to be a star basketball player.

Like everyone, I remember going the other way, getting taller every year. When my sister chased me, I used to run under the dining room table. One day, I was running full tilt and hit my head instead of reaching the safety of being under the table, and I realized that maybe growing taller had a downside, at least if you had an older sister who liked to chase you.

Now, if you were 5 feet, 9 inches, when you were younger, then shrinking isn’t a big tragedy, although a friend who was that size said it hurt her pride when she lost 4 inches. It’s not clear to me how height is something to be proud of, but a lot of people seem to think it is.

They also seem to think it’s related to intelligence.

Once, long ago, when I wrote a column for the Reformer, a woman came up to me after a concert and said, “I love your columns.”

I thanked her. Then she added, “But I thought you’d be taller.”

Huh? Does height have anything to do with writing style? Do short people write short sentences? Is the writing of tall people more forceful?

After that, I started keeping a file of comments about height like, “Although he was short, he was intelligent.” If my brain hadn’t shrunk along with my stature, I’d remember where I put it.

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People also associate height with leadership ability. This makes some sense in a primitive environment in which the bigger and stronger you are, the better you are at smiting dragons, wrestling giants and chopping down towering oaks. I once read about a meeting in which total strangers were divided into small groups and told to pick one person to lead their group. In all cases, they just chose the tallest one.

Short people have to work harder to reach the same station in life, so I figure they know more about how to get things done. In presidential debates, I always notice which candidate is the tallest and vote for the other one. Sadly, despite my efforts, the taller one usually wins.

If I hire a short lawyer, I figure this person will work harder for me than the tall one. Of course, it can be a tad awkward if you interview the person on the phone. “Where did you get your degree? What cases have you dealt with? And, um, how tall are you?”

Women tend to be shorter than men, which I think is one reason they tend to be lower on the totem poll of business achievement than men. Stature sometimes has more to do with success than actual talent does.

So, as we age and shrink, are we relegated to jobs with lower prestige to match our new stature? “I’m sorry, ma'am, could you please stand up against that measuring device. Oops, I’m afraid you no longer qualify to be chairwoman. Could I interest you in a position as vice pro tem?”

This might not happen in small towns like Halifax, where we need every person we can find who doesn’t fall asleep at boring meetings, but it might in bigger towns.

Try, as hard as you can, not to shrink as you age. If you figure out how, please let me know. If your antishrinking campaign fails, there are always elevator shoes. Get to meetings early, so no one will notice how tall you are.

And try as hard as you can not to be a shrinking violet.


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