I’m Totally not a Heightist

I was at that point working for awhile completely remote. For some reason I asked my boss how tall he was and then felt bad about it afterward.
Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@simonmaage?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Simon Maage</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/s/photos/tall-cubicle?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Unsplash</a>
Photo by Simon Maage on Unsplash

This picture came up when I searched for “tall” and “cubicle.”

One time I asked my boss-project-manager-sort-of-guy how tall he was. I’d never seen him in person. I had a guess. He paused for a second and then shot back “5 foot 6.” He was taken aback and then I regretted asking.

I’ve now been working remote for the past three and a half years or so and there are a lot of people that I have worked with and gotten to know intensely, yet never physically met in person. I don’t know if it was a bad or rude thing or just a dumb question, but I had to ask. I’m not sure why, but have a couple of ideas.

In the current climate of what some derogatorily call political correctness and others call not being an asshole, there immediately sprang to mind the issue of causing offence. This was not intentional at all, as I’m totally not a heightist. In some disembodied, non-digital way I wanted to know my boss better. He was a cool dude, and that seemed at the time like a way to bridge this distance and divide and recreate, at least in my mind, a shitty version of an in-person situation.

When you meet someone in person you see a lot about them. You see their general health, as in are they sickly or healthy looking. You see their posture and you see their height. In a recent discussion on this, a colleague of mine said we as mammals have a bias to height and size. It’s how we measure up threats deep down inside our lizard brains. And it’s probably wrong, the equivalent of puffing your chest out digitally and trying to figure out where you stand so to speak.

Height never mattered to me, and it was never something I ever paid attention to until I realised I only ever saw the top sixth of any person I ever worked with. What were they really like physically? Height perhaps isn’t a good way to measure this.

Height is like the accent of our times. It is a way of placing someone, and like accents, a mental shortcut to all sorts of assumptions, good and bad. Accents and heigh only bely things a person largely can’t help about themselves, namely where they are from or who raised them and physiology. Yet these mental shortcuts pave the way to our ideas about this person and having one of those shortcuts taken away drove a desire to get that back. Which isn’t great.

So could we, or rather should we, ask someone how tall they are? To use the accent as a marker, one can assume it is not impolite or incorrect to ask necessarily. But it depends how it’s done, micro-aggressively or with tact and understanding.