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Friday, October 22, 2021

Column: Confidential Drift

I hereby give you permission to enter my memory lane. Admittedly, it’s more of an alley (I don’t remember much). Welcome to my third grade classroom, equipped with 35 “I still think my teachers sleep at school” students. My teacher welcomed us into the classroom one day with a challenge. The task: name all seven continents. The reward: center of attention for the next 10 minutes.

As the person who always raised her hand when no one else did, I became exceedingly worried. The only continent I could think of was India, and that was not going to elevate me to supreme teacher’s pet. It was time for drastic measures. For most, sitting in the second row meant you were completely visible, but I had my secret weapon: Ryan. He was the tallest person in the class and conveniently sat in front of me. It only took a slight hunch to make myself disappear completely (whaddup invisibility cloak). I managed to avoid the question, but Ryan inevitably did not.

A study conducted by two Princeton economists in 2006 found that teachers tend to give taller students more attention in the classroom. They maintained that this translates to “greater levels of cognitive stimulation,” which could potentially lead to more confidence later in life. While this may be true, I can’t help but wonder if Ryan actually liked being called on all the time. Back in those days when self-confidence was as unstable as the LOST finale, anything could cause it to falter.

Looking back on that day, I’ve begun to reassess who really had it worse. Sure, I had to move my chair around in order to see the board, but is that nearly as bad as being unable to control the fact that you’re the most noticeable person in the class? I think not.

When doing some research on height vs. confidence, I repeatedly got the same results. Everything I found had titles like “Tall people have better lives” and “Tall people are happier.” At a glance, the issue seems rather intuitive. The taller you are, the more confidence you have. But it can’t be that simple.

So I decided to talk to my 6-foot-4 friend, Matt Mullarkey. Matt isn’t a UCD student, but don’t fret – he’s a loyal Picnic Day regular.

After my first conversation with Matt I was left thinking he had to have been one of the most confident people I’d ever met. I was pretty intimidated. But it was hard for me to pin down why he seemed that way. Was it how he talked? The way he presented himself? Both contributed, but I knew there was something else. It was more the significant gap between our eye levels.

Many studies have been done that connect height and authority. A Stanford professor found that people in the workplace make serious efforts to enhance their height in order to attain a “subliminal sense of power,” as one CEO claims. Elevator shoe companies make millions with products that “help others discover a newly found confidence and increased self-esteem.”

It’s scary how easy it is to box people into categories and convince yourself that box is the extent of the truth. Matt taught me that everyone can have lapses in their stream of confidence. He admits that even he feels out of place when approached by a taller man, regardless of age.

The fact that groups like “The Tall Persons Club of Great Britain and Ireland” and “Short Support” exist, tell me that everyone has issues with confidence. My 4-foot-11 roommate, Corrie, put it perfectly: “Why do you think I talk so loudly?” We all have mechanisms that help us feel more comfortable in this world.

Sally Alexander, the Senior Learning Skills counselor at the Student Academic Success Center, shared with me how she helps her kids accept their above-average height. “They both stand tall and focus on interacting well with other people, which is far more important in the long run.” So confidence isn’t about size. It’s about being open with yourself. Lady Gaga is only 5-foot-1, and no one can read her poker face.

I wish I could remember Ryan’s last name so I could tell him I understand now. The kid saved me from a lot of embarrassment, but I’m guessing that didn’t do him any good. Being tall isn’t easy. It takes a lot of courage to stand out. To my tall brethren: We have more in common than I thought. This means some experience sharing can happen. I’m excited about that.

If you’re confident that Benjamin Linus was taller than Jack Shepherd, reach MAYA MAKKER at her dharma station, mgmakker@ucdavis.edu.

4 COMMENTS

  1. elavator shoes huh? learnin new things from this column.

    btw, appreciate the Lost reference, although we all know how lame that show turned out to be…

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