Tall poppy syndrome – The curse of the insecure

I was prompted to blog by a comment made during a podcast episode I listened to recently. On the Tim Ferris show, Phil Keoghan – The Magic of Bucket Lists and Amazing Races was interviewed. Phil is the host of the Amazing Race and originates from New Zealand.

Amongst topics discussed, Phil mentions the phrase Tall Poppy Syndrome in relation to the mindset of a lot of people from New Zealand. The term relates to maintaining conformity and not standing out from the crowd, such as in a field of poppies with one taller than the others. To keep things equal, the taller poppy will be cut down to size.

Phil uses the example of the NZ All Blacks, the champion national Rugby Union team. The All Blacks are arguably the highest achieving team ever in world Rugby Union, however, in line with the NZ mentality, they will understate their greatness.

This reminded me of Greg Norman’s win at the 1993 British Open with a final round of 64. Following the round, Norman quipped that “I’m in awe of myself” as he didn’t miss hit a shot. I recall that this comment was discussed in Australia almost more than his win. It was considered discourteous to the other players and arrogant. I could argue though that he was actually understating his normal ability and he just had a great day.

In Australia, anyone who has achieved celebrity through their success is in constant danger of being cut down at the slightest perceived indiscretion. Any comment is taken out of context, their personal life is massively scrutinised, they are lambasted for not contributing their great wealth to charity….the list goes on.

Paul Hogan was considered a national treasure until he achieved worldwide fame with Crocodile Dundee. Initially, he was the still the regular Aussie bloke that made good. But then, his relationship to his co-star was made public. He was then a cheater that let a bit of fame make him forget family values. He wasn’t quite disowned but his public image was massively diminished.

Why can’t we celebrate the success of others instead of trying to bring them down to our level? Instead of looking for fault, why aren’t we looking to learn from them instead? Is their public life really any of our business? Being a tall poppy in Australia is a terrible burden. Be a nobody and fail miserably and constantly and no one cares.

However, it seems that in the US, being a tall poppy is something to be proud of. Sure, the failures of the high-flyers make the press, such as Tiger Wood’s infidelity and Donald Trump’s misguided comments. But it seems that this is more of identifying that everyone can make mistakes rather than wanting them to fail (though maybe with Trump I could be wrong). I doubt I would be wrong in saying that the US would love it if Tiger was the best again.

Maybe Australia could learn some lessons from the pride that American’s have in themselves and country. Pride is considered a character fault in Australia. Why should it be though? Australia is a great place to live, with an envious quality of living but we are happy to hide in the shadows.

To steal a quote from the movie Troy when a messenger boy comments to Achilles, ‘The Thesselonian you’re fighting…he’s the biggest man I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t want to fight him’. Achilles responds ‘That’s why no-one will remember your name’. Come on Australia, strive for greatness and be a tall poppy! If you are too insecure to admire the success of others, keep your undermining comments to yourself and live in obscurity. No one will remember you anyway.

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