As I exited the subway today in the middle of a swarm of office-bound people it was a familiar scene. I walked though a set of double doors into a corridor that opened up on one side and people streaming from two directions were heading my way. As I continued to walk in the same straight line a woman half my size was on a direct and sustained collision course.
No, I thought, today is different. Don’t move this time, don’t let her push you around.
Since she had so much space to, you know, not walk directly into me I continued walking on my straight path. I have no idea what the woman was thinking, but she didn’t move and walked right into me. There was no question that it was entirely her fault so I didn’t bother to offer the first half of the traditional Canadian double sorry. She didn’t apologise either and continued on past me off to walk into other people.
Up a flight of stairs at Tim Hortons there was a short line spilling out into the concourse. I stood behind someone else in the doorway and people exited through the other half of the door. I felt some movement behind me but didn’t turn around to see what it was. A different woman half my size shoved her way through the oncoming traffic and those like me waiting patiently in line, and on her savage journey her elbow made swift and blunt contact with my groin and had me doubled over in pain.
This near constant stream of physical aggression from people shorter than me is nothing new. In fact, it is pretty much my every day.
I’ve had plenty of time to think about it often since I hit a growth spurt in my early teens. At 190cm tall (that’s 6’3″ to the unenlightened) I’ve always been quite aware of my size and stature. Constantly slouching to be in photos, smacking my head on door frames designed for shorter people, having my feet hang off the end of the bed. All of that and more, and I’m not even incredibly tall. I can only imagine the logistical nightmare faced by people a few inches north of me.
All of that is incidental, the kind of stuff that makes you shrug because it is your lot in life. Even being fetishized by shorter people as a tall person isn’t exactly the worst thing about being tall. The physical aggression, however, is.
Every time I step out in a public space I feel like I am locked in a game of chicken with everyone around me, and the worst part is I am put in a position where I always have to lose.
The best way I could explain this to someone of average or shorter height is that every time I’m caught in the public space showdown it is like having a loaded gun in your pocket during an argument. Sure, I could win easily. All I would ever have to do is brace my shoulder and walk at a clip and every person who wants to inhabit the space I am in would be on the floor. I could be the first person up the steps every time if I wanted to. I could have actually picked up the person who dinged me with a crotch shot at Tim Hortons by the scruff of the neck and thrown them to the back of the line if I had wanted to, but I don’t want to because I have no desire to pick fights with strangers.
Like having a gun in an argument any sane person is going to back down, lose the argument, and let the aggressor win to maintain peace.
I never encounter this issue with anyone my size — we understand that playing chicken on the subway platform is like two nuclear powers going to war and can only end in mutually assured destruction.
The people who do barrel along always invariably seem to be around five feet tall. I don’t want to be responsible for knocking someone into an oncoming train, so I always step aside.
But, for the love of God, I am sick and tired of people taking advantage of my willingness to prevent their physical injury.
Part of the issue stems from Napoleon complexes. The complex, also known “short man syndrome” is a bit of pop psychology that applies to the attitudes of people with different perceived handicaps — although Napoleon himself wasn’t as short as history painted him, the idea is that he tried to take over Europe to compensate for his stature. The theory is that people who are shorter or smaller will tend to act more aggressive or attack larger opponents to compensate for people viewing them as weaker or less capable than their tall counterparts. While it might not apply to everyone I have known several shorter people who have told me they are (inexplicably, to me at least) jealous of my height.
The theory isn’t exactly hard science, I would assume because any time an angry short person was told they are angry because they are short they got twice as mad at the psychologist and refused to participate in the study any more.
Couple Napoleon complexes with the unspoken social contract of crowd spaces we Canadians share (1: Step out of the way; 2: Apologise a few times; 3: Don’t cause a scene at any cost) and you’ve got a system ripe for abuse by those who have something to prove and people being pushed around who are almost psychologically incapable of doing anything about it.
People who hold this world view have my sympathy, but there comes a point where I have to say enough is enough. Consider this my manifesto: The next time I am facing imminent contact with a pushy person I’m taking a page out of their book and throwing the Canadian social contract out the window and bracing for impact.
Maybe when a few assholes realise that despite whatever anger or fervor fuels them they can’t, in fact, get past me by sheer will or force we can get back to the way things should be. Until then, get the hell out of my way and pick on someone your own size.
Follow Travis on Twitter at @TravMyers.