Do you hesitate to share a really good idea?


Australians like to see tall poppies cut down to size.

“Tall Poppy Syndrome” is fortunately not a mental illness diagnosis, but a phenomena of social culture.

Tall Poppy Syndrome refers to the negativity by majority to those who excel or stand out. Most of the literature seems to point to Australians having this reaction to those that are different.

Choose to ignore any negativity if it is just a personal attack. If you are supported with your skills to excel, then sometimes it is best to just push past the barriers of the judgement of others, and continue to do your best. Vivian Jarrett

In the time of paucity in public debate, we all need avenues to engage and lift the debate. I hope you can join the discussion. Andrew MacLeod

Part One

In “Flogging the tall-poppy syndrome” [] it is said, “To swimmer Ian Thorpe, the tall-poppy syndrome meant not conforming to traditional conceptions of Australian masculinity, which led to rumours of being gay.

To scientists, the tall-poppy syndrome meant Australians were too focussed on sport, and not giving due recognition to intellectual achievement.”

One way to think about the tall-poppy syndrome is that it reflects the diversity of values in a multicultural society. As long as a diversity of values exists, there will always be people criticizing those icons that are held up as the “model” that Australians should aspire to be like….

….The more diverse the society, and the less the sense of community, the more critical it will be to its “icons”….

The wide-spread ridicule of a social position forces the individual Australian to use individualistic methods to deal with feelings of inferiority. Consequently, if Einstein had been born in Australia, perhaps some scientists would have worked hard to try to be smarter than him or to produce even better theories. Other scientists would have dismissed the value of physics and studied astronomy instead. Some scientists would have looked for flaws in Einstein as a person, and criticised those flaws in order to reduce any prestige associated with Einstein. Some scientists might have tried to keep him out of their universities by hiring scientists from “disadvantaged” backgrounds in the name of equity.

Overall, Einstein probably would have found himself in the same position that almost all of Australia’s great inventors and noble prize winning scientists have found themselves in. Specifically, he would have been publicly ignored.

Part Two

As Andrew MacLeod says, “Australians are a perverse lot.” []

He continues, “We do not, in this culture, allow people to celebrate what they are good at. If they did, we would tell them that they are “full of themselves”, or, “up themselves”.

We have perhaps taken our egalitarian nature, which is essentially good, to a level that it is doing us harm. It is doing us harm because the egalitarian nature and the tall poppy syndrome in preventing us from celebrating success does three things:

It forces people with high ambition to either hide the ambition or reduce the ambition.
Perhaps worse, it stops us from celebrating the success and enjoying today for the things that we have done well.

When we have done something well we like to look for an external cause such as “luck”.”
…[For example], When incredibly successful Australians return from overseas rather than celebrating their stories for their friends and families often wish that they do not speak too much of their success. They are encouraged to keep those stories to themselves. But you do not even have to be incredibly successful to have pressure to keep silent.

Part Three

Vivian Jarrett, B Psych (hons), AMAPS answers the question. “What do you do if you have become a Tall Poppy? []

If you are reading [this] you are probably wondering if your success or future plans were cut down by others because you stand out or excel in your personal or work life.

I’d like to propose a list of attributes of those who might have been affected:

  • Do you hesitate to share a really good idea with those around you, because you worry that they will feel bad if your idea is a “great idea”?
  • Do you find that people come to you to solve problems, rather than others?
  • Do you have skills that are noticeably better than the majority of those around you? This can include the arts or music, sport or work, relationships or academia.
  • Do you have stress when you remember negative comments or actions made by others, after you shared an idea or excelled at something?
  • Do you have nightmares or constant worry about trying to avoid hurting others’ feelings, and try to under-perform to appear more normal?”

The concept of tall poppy syndrome seems quite vague, but I believe that excelling and exceeding the norms of behaviour causes those in the majority group to feel uncomfortable. Others feel uncomfortable because it often calls into question their own work effort or personal ability. It can often be more about maintaining the status quo, than the individual that became the tall poppy.

Still being a tall poppy is a problem in our society if all tall poppies need to keep brilliance under a rock because of the need to fit in! So here are my tips on being a tall poppy. These are slightly unconventional and a little tongue in cheek. I’m Australian so it is, what it is …

Part Four

“Tips for tall poppies” [from Vivian Jarrett, B Psych (hons), AMAPS

If you succumb to tall poppying, start hanging out with sunflowers. In layman’s terms, move out of your social circle. Perhaps study a course that is harder than one you have previously and find others that share your skills!

If you like the other poppies try a little water and fertiliser; or start projects that lead to sharing your skills and helping those around you up-skill and “grow a little taller”. This may take patience. But if your relationships are worth it, try it.
Relax a little and smell the roses, take a holiday or challenge yourself to take it easy. Slowing down the rate of achievements can be good for your health, and means you fit in because you are taking it easy …

Change your setting and try something challenging. If you excel at music, try a sport. If you excel at programming, try cooking. If you enjoy speaking, try reading. Often we enjoy things we can’t do, more than the things we do best!

Another idea is to choose to ignore any negativity if it is just a personal attack. If you are supported with your skills to excel, then sometimes it is best to just push past the barriers of the judgement of others, and continue to do your best.



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