Tall Poppy Syndrome and the Jealousies

 

I recently wrote a post about how Kiwis will soon take over the online world, and I still contend that my prediction is likely.

That being said, there is one big hurdle other than Internet infrastructure that could hamstring New Zealand’s effort to become a dominant player in international business, and this hurdle has a cute name.

Tall Poppy Syndrome refers to the Kiwi tendency to identify anyone who has distinguished themselves from their peers and tear them down. I’ve seen this concept in practice while playing board games and discussing local politics…whomever happens to be doing the best has an invisible target on their head and is viciously ripped apart.

This isn’t a Kiwi-exclusive trend by any means – I think people from every culture have some proclivity to make themselves feel big by making others feel small – but it’s an especially prominent trait here, due largely to the same pioneer roots that make Kiwis such a strong, innovative culture.

In a small, agricultural community, having one standout farmer among thousands of others just doesn’t jive well. If everyone is able to work on even ground, however, they can share resources and information without one feeling like they are talking up or down to another.

This works really well for small farming communities – it keeps people from each others’ throats, at least – but on the world stage, it’s a huge burden.

If talented entrepreneurs are to be pulled out of the woodwork and displayed for the whole world to see, they’ll have to be assured that in stepping forward, working hard and helping New Zealand achieve a position of cultural influence within the global community they won’t be martyred by the very people they are trying to uplift and represent.

I’m really not sure how an entire culture can deal with an historically ingrained case of the jealousies, but I do know that it’s a problem Kiwis (and everyone else on Earth that has it) should deal with posthaste, lest they be left out and forgotten as another global power shift takes place and the rewards for those who contribute are doled out.

35 comments

  1. Hey Colin,

    I’ve been a victim of Tall Poppy Syndrome my entire life – though I hate to call myself a victim. In my short lifespan, I’ve been one of the smartest people in my pretty dull community, and have been derided for it more often than I have been praised. Over time, I’ve dealt with it, and kept my ways regardless, since being true to my own purpose has always mattered more than other peoples’ praise. I’ve risen above it, and my life is better for it.

    But your article is about Kiwis, not me.

    I think the Kiwis’ Tall Poppy Syndrome may actually accelerate their move to the internet (if the political system you described actually works out). The Web allows the talented to flourish and produce to their best in a competitive, yet collaborative environment, where there are truly no borders. Talented, entrepreneurial Kiwis who want to escape the jealousy of their neighbors would probably opt to step onto the more free stage of the internet, where the could collaborate with people who aren’t going to hate them for their competence, and instead like them for it.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post, as always.

  2. Hey Colin,

    I’ve been a victim of Tall Poppy Syndrome my entire life – though I hate to call myself a victim. In my short lifespan, I’ve been one of the smartest people in my pretty dull community, and have been derided for it more often than I have been praised. Over time, I’ve dealt with it, and kept my ways regardless, since being true to my own purpose has always mattered more than other peoples’ praise. I’ve risen above it, and my life is better for it.

    But your article is about Kiwis, not me.

    I think the Kiwis’ Tall Poppy Syndrome may actually accelerate their move to the internet (if the political system you described actually works out). The Web allows the talented to flourish and produce to their best in a competitive, yet collaborative environment, where there are truly no borders. Talented, entrepreneurial Kiwis who want to escape the jealousy of their neighbors would probably opt to step onto the more free stage of the internet, where the could collaborate with people who aren’t going to hate them for their competence, and instead like them for it.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post, as always.

  3. I’m speaking with emotion here:

    Man! I absolutely hate it when I do that. And I do it all of the time. It’s like when they do good, I get all of the awesome feelings sucked right out of me.

    I’m getting better at it, but it’s still there. It still sucks, and it’s still real. I don’t really get it, but SOMEBODY COME AND GET THIS MONKEY OFF OF MY BACK!!!

    Stinking frustrations. Go away. And thank you Colin for the post.

  4. I’m speaking with emotion here:

    Man! I absolutely hate it when I do that. And I do it all of the time. It’s like when they do good, I get all of the awesome feelings sucked right out of me.

    I’m getting better at it, but it’s still there. It still sucks, and it’s still real. I don’t really get it, but SOMEBODY COME AND GET THIS MONKEY OFF OF MY BACK!!!

    Stinking frustrations. Go away. And thank you Colin for the post.

  5. I’m currently living my mobile lifestyle in China and I can tell you it is the exact same thing here. I teach college students and we just talked about this. While they all want to be excellent #1 students they don’t want to actually excel in anything. There is even a traditional Chinese saying roughly translated as “Don’t be the best, don’t be the worst, it is safest in the middle.” Which of course sounds like a recipe for mediocrity to me!

    I can tell things are changing here, kids do want to be different and do different things, but it is slow in coming.

  6. I’m currently living my mobile lifestyle in China and I can tell you it is the exact same thing here. I teach college students and we just talked about this. While they all want to be excellent #1 students they don’t want to actually excel in anything. There is even a traditional Chinese saying roughly translated as “Don’t be the best, don’t be the worst, it is safest in the middle.” Which of course sounds like a recipe for mediocrity to me!

    I can tell things are changing here, kids do want to be different and do different things, but it is slow in coming.

  7. I’m Asian-American and I was actually just discussing this issue with one of my Chinese friends today. We’re doing mock interviews and she has a really hard time talking about her skills or what she brings to the table because she’s been raised to be extremely humble. Her parents have drilled it into her head that she’s one of many and not particularly better than everyone else. In Japan, there’s a saying: “The nail that sticks out gets pounded down.”

    In societies where the group is emphasized over the individual, you try not to excel too much. You want to be seen as contributing, but you don’t want to be the best.

  8. I’m Asian-American and I was actually just discussing this issue with one of my Chinese friends today. We’re doing mock interviews and she has a really hard time talking about her skills or what she brings to the table because she’s been raised to be extremely humble. Her parents have drilled it into her head that she’s one of many and not particularly better than everyone else. In Japan, there’s a saying: “The nail that sticks out gets pounded down.”

    In societies where the group is emphasized over the individual, you try not to excel too much. You want to be seen as contributing, but you don’t want to be the best.

  9. I’ve heard lots of fascinating stories from WWII about American’s vs Kiwis. For instance: GI’s would be driving along in their jeep when it “breaks”, they’re forced to abandon it. A little while later some Kiwi soldiers (ANZACs) come across the jeep. They fiddle around with it for a few minutes, then presto they drive away in their spanking brand new jeep! :-D

  10. I’ve heard lots of fascinating stories from WWII about American’s vs Kiwis. For instance: GI’s would be driving along in their jeep when it “breaks”, they’re forced to abandon it. A little while later some Kiwi soldiers (ANZACs) come across the jeep. They fiddle around with it for a few minutes, then presto they drive away in their spanking brand new jeep! :-D

  11. That’s really interesting that something like that is so ingrained in a culture. I’ve never been to New Zealand nor have I ever met a kiwi so I don’t have any first hand experience of it to share. However, hopefully they can channel that negative trait into a positive trait by having the whole nation band together and become extremely competitive in the online space. I think if they apply this attititude towards ‘foreign’ online enterprises – mixed with your previous prediction – then the next 10 years will definitley be the kiwis’.

  12. That’s really interesting that something like that is so ingrained in a culture. I’ve never been to New Zealand nor have I ever met a kiwi so I don’t have any first hand experience of it to share. However, hopefully they can channel that negative trait into a positive trait by having the whole nation band together and become extremely competitive in the online space. I think if they apply this attititude towards ‘foreign’ online enterprises – mixed with your previous prediction – then the next 10 years will definitley be the kiwis’.

  13. While this seems to be a human tendency that likely has existed for ages, I think it was first given a name (The Jante law) in Scandinavia.

    Check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jante_Law

    “Generally used colloquially as a sociological term to negatively describe an attitude towards individuality and success claimed to be common in Scandinavia, it refers to a supposed snide, jealous and narrow small-town mentality which refuses to acknowledge individual effort and places all emphasis on the collective, while punishing those who stand out as achievers.”

    Got to say though, that there is a bright side to it too, in terms of promoting a humble attitude and skepticism towards ppl that brag too much, and towards megalomaniacs. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the levels of corruption are considered among the lowest in the world in Scandinavia and New Zeeland.

    A guy like Berlusconi (or to take a US reference Blagojevich of Chichago) would have a pretty hard time getting into power in a place with a Jante law culture.

  14. While this seems to be a human tendency that likely has existed for ages, I think it was first given a name (The Jante law) in Scandinavia.

    Check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jante_Law

    “Generally used colloquially as a sociological term to negatively describe an attitude towards individuality and success claimed to be common in Scandinavia, it refers to a supposed snide, jealous and narrow small-town mentality which refuses to acknowledge individual effort and places all emphasis on the collective, while punishing those who stand out as achievers.”

    Got to say though, that there is a bright side to it too, in terms of promoting a humble attitude and skepticism towards ppl that brag too much, and towards megalomaniacs. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the levels of corruption are considered among the lowest in the world in Scandinavia and New Zeeland.

    A guy like Berlusconi (or to take a US reference Blagojevich of Chichago) would have a pretty hard time getting into power in a place with a Jante law culture.

  15. Interesting. I first encountered this syndrome in England and then again in Australia and put it down to Aussies descending from the English. Didnt realise Kiwis were into it too. Its a shame.

  16. Interesting. I first encountered this syndrome in England and then again in Australia and put it down to Aussies descending from the English. Didnt realise Kiwis were into it too. Its a shame.

  17. Tall poppy syndrome? Random name – totally true syndrome :) I also love the ‘jealousies’. It is unfortunate that cultures everywhere seem to feed on this tearing down of those who are doing well – best just to not take heed, what people don’t get is that in the end they are hurting themselves more than anything.

  18. Tall poppy syndrome? Random name – totally true syndrome :) I also love the ‘jealousies’. It is unfortunate that cultures everywhere seem to feed on this tearing down of those who are doing well – best just to not take heed, what people don’t get is that in the end they are hurting themselves more than anything.

  19. Where are you going next? Thailand? I think you should get use to the “Tall Poppy Syndrome.” I know a few people already mentioned this, but putting the greatness of group accomplishment ahead of individual achievement and sayings like “Nail which stands out gets more hammer (Chinese proverb, obviously written in Chinglish)” were created to control subordinates–Corporations, Monarchies, Communist rulers.

    There are Individualistic cultures (that praise individual achievement) and there are Collectivist cultures (that only praise the progress of groups). I thought only Asian countries encouraged downplaying accomplishments, but apparently this virus is everywhere.

  20. Where are you going next? Thailand? I think you should get use to the “Tall Poppy Syndrome.” I know a few people already mentioned this, but putting the greatness of group accomplishment ahead of individual achievement and sayings like “Nail which stands out gets more hammer (Chinese proverb, obviously written in Chinglish)” were created to control subordinates–Corporations, Monarchies, Communist rulers.

    There are Individualistic cultures (that praise individual achievement) and there are Collectivist cultures (that only praise the progress of groups). I thought only Asian countries encouraged downplaying accomplishments, but apparently this virus is everywhere.

  21. I’m a kiwi and I admire successful people. I think the tall poppy syndrome is overstated. It’s OK to be successful, however it is very important to always be humble and never to flaunt your success without humility or to automatically assume a higher status over others because there is a very good chance that they may be even more successful or more intellegent than you are.

  22. I’m a kiwi and I admire successful people. I think the tall poppy syndrome is overstated. It’s OK to be successful, however it is very important to always be humble and never to flaunt your success without humility or to automatically assume a higher status over others because there is a very good chance that they may be even more successful or more intellegent than you are.

  23. Hi there, I think I am experiencing this 'syndrome' right now. I have created a social networking site with the added features that there will be a brand new tv series and online movies on the site that I will be producing. I have noticed that 90 odd% of the people supporting the site by joining and spreading the word are people I do not know while many of my 'friends' no longer even talk to me now since I have created this site. I also posted the site on a jobs forums for the arts (promoting auditions) and I had the reply from a member stating to not promote. Would this be a sign of the 'Tall Poppy Syndrome'? Of course I would love for people to join http://www.isocialeyes.co.uk and help spread the word as the sooner I hit the member target, the sooner I can go into production to provide free tv for its members. Maybe someone could create a group on my site regarding this and link it to this site? I am a strong believer that life would be so much better if we all just help eachother!!! What do you think?

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  25. I think this might be the issue I’m finding here is Brisbane. I’m American. I have this general feeling of being unliked. I never had this feeling in the States. I feel as if my co-workers are happy if I make a mistake and are quick to point it out. It’s a very odd feeling. I feel almost like I’m being discriminated against, as if I were a black man living in the 50’s, but I’m white. I don’t know how to describe it. I don’t have this feeling around Aussies outside of the workplace however. If I could I would go back to the States but unfortunately It’s not that easy to pick up and move back.

    • I have had the same experience in NZ as an American.We aren’t liked down here in a veyr knee-jerk way, and it doesn’t matter what politics you subscribe to. They are constantly looking for ways to bring you down. And you feel like you’ve got leprosy or something. Can’t wait to leave. These people will never pick anything as the best if it’s not Kiwi. They fear the loss of their identity. Don’t bother to come and live here.

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  28. Oh, this is very much an Australian thing, as well. Infuriatingly so. In fact, I didn’t know that New Zealand suffered it anywhere near as much as Australia did.

    Here in Melbourne we battle through the thick, hazy sludge of Tall Poppy Syndrome each day – fiercely trying to shine bright light beyond all the cynicism, cool, the fear & the jealousies.

    I think once you recognise it as actually being present, it’s not such a big deal. But it can be a sh*t fight trying to get beyond the ho-hum when you aren’t sure why your most valiant attempts are being batted aside like so much fluff on the end of a bored kitten’s paw.

    Inevitably, we learn to… negotiate our way around it; changing it from the inside. It’s so entrenched – it’s the hugest – I mean, seriously THE most massive – distinction I perceive between we Antipodeans and our North American friends and colleagues.

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