Whenever I’m in need of inspiration, I Google “quotes about [insert feeling or random thought].” There’s something particularly unique about famous quotations. When we read them on our computer screens they have no context, and exist as independent blurbs of reason. On those occasions when my brain is as confused as Legolas in the Lord of the Rings movies, I turn to Mark Twain. The guy has made a comment (sometimes strange) on every subject I’ve needed him for.
In one of my recent Google endeavors I came across the following mind-opener by Twain: “Reflection is the beginning of reform. There can be no reform without reflection. If you don’t reflect when you commit a crime then that crime is of no use. It might just as well have been committed by someone else.”
I’ve thought a lot about the word “reflection.” It’s something I don’t mind telling other people to do (i.e. young, “innocent” summer-campers), but I don’t partake in it very often myself.
Over the past nine weeks I’ve done some serious learning. When I came to you at the beginning of this freezing winter quarter, I wanted to highlight an issue that doesn’t get enough recognition. I wanted to learn more about the people we see every day in the CoHo and Wellman – the people that make up our community.
We’ve met athletes, theater enthusiasts and “shawtys.” They shared stories about how their measuring tapes showed more than factual readings. They know that being short doesn’t always get you the role in the play. They know that they still have a place to shine on a team where they stand a foot and a half below everyone else. They know that getting called “shawty” when you stand over six feet isn’t always a funny remark.
But this learning goes beyond the individual. We, as a community, share more experiences that we may want to believe. It’s easy to say “you wouldn’t understand,” because it means we don’t have to talk about how our parents wanted us to take growth hormone, or that we’d rather not have a child who is forced go through life having a bird’s-eye view of everyone else around them.
We can understand each other because we all have a height. I see people every day and immediately try to discern their life story.
“She has a huge backpack so she must be an engineer.”
“This guy is so tall. He must play basketball.”
Height is another tool we can use to pass judgment. If I got a dollar every time someone asked me what middle school I go to, I’d live in the Harry Potter theme park. And as much as I want to throw a fit and rant, it’s not their fault. I look how I look. They’re just interpreting what they see.
But when considered as more than a simple statement of truth, we can see how height has always mattered to us. It made a difference when Napoleon’s motivation to expand the French Empire was “justified” by his supposed height. We’ve let it make a difference in the workplace, where studies have found that every inch on an employee can translate to a salary boost of $789 a year.
There are the ultra serious, height-related issues like egg donations and human growth hormone that are nothing short of relevant in our society. But what I find myself thinking about the most are those daily instances when height sneaks up on us and makes its presence.
A first-grader always getting called on because he’s the most noticeable. Watching someone close their eyes and jump off the bus, hoping they’ll make a safe landing. Turning to a random classmate to find out what’s written on the board. Wondering where she finds jeans that are long enough.
Sure, these are minute observations that won’t affect your grade on a final, but here’s my suggestion: notice what you notice. Next time you ask a tall person “how’s the weather up there?” think about how annoying that might be. Or even better, talk to them about it. Find out what stereotypes follow them around every day. Maybe you’ll have some in common. In the words of the very wise Ms. Frizzle: “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy.”
I’ve noticed a pattern in how I’ve been operating this quarter. First, I asked questions. Second, I learned. And third, I reflected. This process allowed me to maintain an open mind and connect with the people around me. If we apply this idea to the hidden facets of our society and give ourselves room to grow, I have a feeling that “They will see us waving from such great heights. ‘Come down now,’ they’ll say.”
MAYA MAKKER is glad you didn’t stay home today. According to her research, The Magic School Bus is a great place for reflection. Interested in a field trip? Send your permission slip to firstname.lastname@example.org.