Tuesday, July 6, 2021

A Systemic Tale

They hated tall people.

They were the ruling class in this country, and they were all 5 feet tall or shorter. There were tall people among them, mostly as servants or laborers, because the short ruling class hated them and barred them from the same kind of freedoms that the short rulers enjoyed.

This was reflected in many aspects of their society, including the architecture. In those long-ago days, the ruling class built a fabulous capitol building, a seat of power and government, in which every doorway was no taller than five and a half feet. The law of the land required those short doors. In some private homes there might be a tall entrance ion the back, for the help, but most major public buildings--hospitals, schools, stores-- were built with short doorways, both for entry and through the inside.

But as time passed, and some critical historic events occurred, and society just got smarter, and many of the laws were struck down and attitudes shifted. It was rare that you'd hear someone openly say how they hated the tall folks.

But the buildings were still there, unchanged. The old capitol building, the schools, the hospitals, all still had short doors. And though building codes had changed, some people still built their houses with short doors. "We like," they would explain, "the classic traditional look." 

Nobody who worked in the capitol hated tall people, but tall people still had to scrunch and stoop themselves to get in there.

Tall folks would launch movements to have the doors enlarged to accommodate tall folks. 

"Why do you have to make it all about height?" complained some short folk.

"We just want to be able to walk through those doors," said some tall folks.

"Well, everybody wants to walk through those doors. Why are we just talking about what you want?" said some short folks.

"We want to change the way doors are made in this country," said some tall people.

"Why are you trying to erase our history?" said some short people.

Some tall people became so frustrated that they brought tools and tried to break down the tops of the doorways. "You'll never get people to listen to you if you go around behaving like that," said some short folks.

"Can we at least talk about the history of how these doorways were designed, and what effect prejudice and bias led our buildings to be built the way they are?" asked some tall people.

"Why are you trying to make me feel guilty and uncomfortable," replied some short people. "I didn't build these doorways. The people who did have been dead for years. It's not my fault I can walk through these doors without hunching over." 

"But why not fix the doors?"

"Look," said some short folks. "I don't know what you want from me. I contribute to a group that buys head protection for you people. If you work hard and adopt the proper posture, you can pass through these doors just as easily as the rest of us." 

"But the system--"

"There is no system. There's just a bunch of doors built by my dead ancestors in every public building. This is so damn frustrating. If you don't like the doors, do something about it--but not that violent thing where you try to bust them."

So the tall folks knelt next to the doorways.

"No, not like that," said some short folk.

The tall folk had prayer meetings around the doors.

"That's too noisy," said some short people.

The tall folks built some buildings of their own with doorways seven feet high. "Why do you have to be so divisive," said some short people, who felt really uncomfortable walking through the tall doorways. And other short people, who loved tall people just as well as they loved anyone, tried hard to understand why there was so much chaos and argument and wondered why everyone couldn't just get along. But even after the builders of a prejudiced, biased building are all gone, the building remains.

No, I don't have an ending for this story, and yes, I know the metaphor is an imperfect one. You can take me to task in the comments. 


  1. I think it’s a great metaphor - it oversimplifies the issue, but I’m not even sure that any one piece of writing can encompass the whole issue anyway. And I’m sad that there’s not an ending yet. But I sure hope we find one some day.

  2. I LOVE this! Some things aren't complicated and trying to make them complicated just makes us look stupid.

  3. I don't think the metaphor is imperfect. Skin color and height are both determined to a large extent by genetics. We are one species and the differences among us are, or at least ought to be, tiny compared to what we share.

    “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better!”

    We know better. All that's left to make the ending for your story is that we do better.

  4. I think the metaphor is clever and ingenious.

  5. This is excellent. It's a pity that our state (Idaho) would not allow you to teach this in your classroom.
    Steve, Boise, ID.