Thursday, August 22, 2013

How Size Does Not Matter: Why Goliath and not David is the real underdog

The Young David fighting against armed and laughing Goliath
David and Goliath by Osmar Schindler

The biblical story of David and Goliath is familiar to most of us and is embedded deeply within our cultural psyche. David, the underdog, the short man armed with only a sling took on “uncircumcised” and armored Goliath, the Philistine giant. It seems that from the onset everyone assumed David to get his ass kicked and that he must have been suicidal or “lebensmuede” (tired of living) to even think about getting into a fight with this giant.

This rooting for the good guy underdog who eventually - seemingly against all odds - wins the fight has been exploited countless times in our modern culture. You may think of Rocky who manages to get the win despite the fact that most of the time his opponents look stronger and are probably more experienced.

We see this phenomenon frequently in sports where the unfavored team shows heart and stamina and causes a major upset by winning unexpectedly. All of this may predate to the legendary battle of shifty David and haughty Goliath. But my question is was David really the underdog?

This question would have never crossed my mind had not my friend and colleague Enrico T. - an Econ instructor with substantial knowledge, ideas and a Spanish name to boot - brought up the topic with me during one of our classroom breaks from teaching. While quickly munching on my peanut-butter sandwich in the instructor's room (I usually skip breakfast in the early mornings and the break is short) I let the sandwich digest in my belly and the ideas ferment in my mind.

His theory goes that contrary to popular belief it was Goliath who should be deemed the real underdog. He must have been at a decisive disadvantage due to his size and stature. Think about it. He would definitely lack ability and flexibility and would come up flat-footed compared to the quick and fleet-footed David. Cartoon images come to mind when the giant tries to grab the dwarf who escapes between his legs and runs to and fro driving the giant crazy and perhaps make him stumble and fall flat on his face.

Also if you think about athletics and health, Goliath would equally be at a disadvantage. In most sports, with the definite exception of basketball sticking out like a sore thumb, athletes who are too tall cannot perform as well as those who may be of short or average height. Which players come to mind when we think about soccer? Maradona and Pelé who are not known for their height.

The same happens with physical ailments. In fact, their gigantic size is often caused by a tumor in the brain. Due to their immense size, the organs of giants have to work harder putting a significant strain on the health of these people, including their blood circulatory system. It may come as no surprise that the life expectancy of giants tends to be lower than that of other people.

We also know that David was good with his slingshot, not to mention that he had previously slain a lion and bear with his bare hands. In this way, he could have easily done serious damage to the giant Goliath. The latter would have had a hard time to duck, let alone catch this little springy guy who had a devil of a shot with his pebble hitting Goliath right between the eyes. Moreover, Goliath was also additionally burdened with his armor, large shield, and heavy spear.

So there you have it. What may have seemed as a definite battle to lose on the side of David is in fact a decisive advantage for shorty. He won the battle fair and square, but all things considered, it was his to win in the first place. It was Goliath who was the real underdog, the David of the account, and hardly the other way around.

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