Answering questions for a friend’s diversity assignment the other day, I found myself explaining Australia’s unhealthy love for the ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome.’ It’s the thing I dislike about my culture the most, and it only became apparent to me after living in the US, where views of success lie on the opposite end of the spectrum; the spectrum end which says that success is a great thing, and if you are successful then I want to be like you. If not for travel I probably would never have discovered this truth.
The tall poppy syndrome is synonymous with jealousy and revenge. In Australia, a tall poppy is a successful person or achiever, who as a result, is the target of jealousy and grudging remarks. The syndrome makes you want to tear down the person who is standing out from the crowd to make them the same as you. The effect being then, that no one lives up to their potential, progress is limited, and change rarely occurs.
The story of its origination is fascinating, and I first heard it told by Rick Otton, an Australian real estate investor who was giving a talk on lease optioning. He was discussing the opportunities that abound in real estate investing in America compared to Oz and he then mentioned the Tall Poppy Syndrome and how it came about. Whether it is true or not I am yet to discover but it makes for a great story and a very believable explanation.
Back when our country was being born off the blood and sweat of the convicts, convicted for petty crimes and misdemeanors and sentenced to years of hard road work in the
harsh Australian environment, the prisoners worked in gangs, outnumbering the red coats quite sizeably. This was a dangerous ratio, and so the government had to do something to control the masses. Their solution was to pit the members of the gang against one another. If anyone in the group made themselves stand out, through wisecracks or insubordination, instead of punishing them the soldiers punished the whole work gang. The stand out wise guy? Well he got to take a vacation on the beaches of Sydney, returning after a week looking as red as a poppy. The story goes then that whenever anyone in the gang stood up to make themselves stand out, the rest of the group would then shout out “Sit down, Stop trying to be a tall poppy.”
I’ve researched online to see if this story is true, but I can’t really find anything of its origin. What I do know is that the syndrome is true. I know that this kind of thinking does indeed exist everywhere; you cannot escape the jealousy that comes with other’s success. It just seems to be more of a cultural norm in Australia, and it limits us in many ways. I hope this changes and we learn to break the shackles that bind us once and for all.
For now here is my favorite poem by Marianne Williamson to remind us that it is our natural inclination to let our own light shine. Somewhere, from babe to adult, we forget that and let others try to tell us different. That is not the truth, this is:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure
It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.
It is not just in some; it is in everyone.
And, as we let our own light shine,
we consciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.