The Napoleon Syndrome

  • By Sanjay Akolkar

From Napoleon, Charlie Chaplin, to Sachin Tendulkar, throughout history we have examples of men shorter than the national average prove that small can make great leaders, great sportsmen, to even great tyrants. Here’s the long and short of the Napoleon syndrome, or the stuff some short men pull to stand tall in their own minds. Be careful for you could meet a ‘Waterloo’ of your own making.

Shortness is a term that can be good in contract bridge, but could well spell disaster when talking about male height. Short men can be a tad sensitive to their height, or rather, the lack of it. One must grudgingly admit that throughout history ‘team short’ has really been at the helm of affairs, be it politics or sports.

Wonder, if the legendary Sachin would have more fans than he already has had he been a few inches taller. Or maybe the course of history would have been greatly altered if Napoleon Bonaparte were taller.

When fate deals you a short hand - Napoleon Syndrome!

The Napoleon Syndrome is named after the famous emperor for coping strategies or compensatory actions taken by short or small people to come to terms with their perceived sense of self. In a sense, it is similar to an inferiority complex suffered by short people. However, it could well be responsible for self-actualization or giving them a sense of true self-worth by displaying aggression or by just being plain manipulative.

The Napoleon syndrome is an exaggerated form of self in a person who might be conscious of his height and derives immense pleasure from defeating people at least twice or thrice their height or size. It is a compulsion to win or do things which normal people would not even venture to do.

The Napoleon syndrome can also make a person a wily manipulator who can be extremely good at managing people, but has no real interest in their welfare. He has the knack of using people for his own ends and may feel no compunction whatsoever in manipulating them to serve his interests. Of course, that doesn’t mean every short person is wily or cunning. Sometimes an inferiority complex can also spurn a person on to great deeds. If you look at the lives of some of our sporting or acting legends like Diego Maradona, Tom Cruise, Charlie Chaplin, or in recent times, the great Sachin Tendulkar, then one will certainly agree that these people have succeeded despite their short stature. That, being short was not necessarily a hindrance to what they went out to achieve.

Now, what is considered short in some societies can be really tall for some other folk. Napoleon was about 5 ft 2 and Hitler was about 5 ft 8 inches, well while one could argue that they were of average height than ‘short’ and certainly not midgets by any stretch of imagination. So it could well be that someone who is 6 ft tall could feel miserably small as he couldn’t qualify for his country’s basketball team. Now this 6 ft tall would be considered tall in India and other Asian countries. So it is all in the perception of tall or short that could give a person the Napoleon syndrome, and if that person also has the necessary people skills and the ability to rule the masses, then God help us!


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