Does NZ cut down the Tall Poppy?

Brent Palmer
Published on November 21, 2016

Does NZ cut down the Tall Poppy?

Not mine but Jessica Desmond’s musings on Tall Poppy Syndrome. In New Zealand we are afflicted, almost from birth, with this debilitating, chronic and contagious disease known as Tall Poppy Syndrome. While sufferers are not exclusively New Zealanders (the condition has been documented in Australians, and as far away as Britain and Ireland) the syndrome is particularly prolific in our small nation. It is passed from parent to child, from teacher to student, from friend to friend. Our media is sodden with it and it permeates everything that we do. In some sense it defines us so completely and is such an accepted joke that it is hard to tell if it is a negative, or merely a neutral observation. For a country with an equally pervasive reputation for innovation and excellence the whole thing creates a conundrum and oxymoron of Shakespearian proportions. Tall Poppy Syndrome is attacking those who achieve or excel, literally cutting down those who stand out above the rest. The syndrome has mutated and evolved where now we deprecate ourselves, perhaps to beat others to the inevitable punch. And all of us labour, often without conscious thought, under the tension between wanting to achieve but not wanting to stand out. Be great, but not too great.


Where this syndrome originated from is up for heated debate. Some say Tall poppy is about jealousy. We wish to have achieved what someone else has and so we belittle that achievement. Personally I’d like to think we are not that petty. Someone else’s success does not diminish our own and while everyone is guilty of the occasional hot flush of jealousy surely we do not succumb to it so often that it becomes a cultural calling card. Others say that Tall Poppy is about ignorance. That those who cut others down do not have an understanding of the effects of their reaction or the nous to give critique in the first place. Again I wonder how ignorance could be so wide-reaching in New Zealand that it has become such a dominant feature of society. The third argument has to be that Tall Poppy has come from our diversity; that everyone strives for such a different perfection that there is no ideal. So when a person is held up as someone who as has achieved or someone who you should aspire to be, chances are the things you value will not be present in this role model so you will disagree and criticise them. I also wonder if it really is about the tall poppies at all or is it our inherent desire to support the underdog that naturally pits us against the successful. Nobody was rooting for the Swedes to beat the Jamican Bob Sled Team in Cool Runnings. And there we see the problem exacerbated. From childhood we have been told stories that not only play on our instinctive desire to support the weak but that also paint the successful as maniacal, power hungry and downright nasty! Tall Poppy can manifest as a sort of self-fullfilling prophecy. The New Zealand brand image is clean green peaceful country on the outer edges of the world with good honest people. It lends itself to a “quiet little corner” image. We are also innovative, powerful, surprising and course-altering people but invariably our size and remoteness play a part in our perceptions of ourselves and the worlds around us. We play to this too. The clean, green, remote brand is a mainstay of our tourism industry but has also helped many an internationalising business carve a story for itself. Invariably the syntax of this story is one of small New Zealand protecting the simple things; our gumboot wearing stiff upper lipped selves battling on. Repeatedly telling this story, regardless of for what purpose or to whom, has compounded our values of modesty and humility and reinforced that anything outside of this is to no longer be one of us. But how can Tall Poppy Syndrome really prevail when at our core we do all want to achieve and be associated with success. Albert Einstein once said “if relativity is proved right the Germans will call me a German, the Swiss call me a Swiss citizen, and the French will call me a great scientist. If relativity is proved wrong the French will call me a Swiss, the Swiss will call me a German, and the Germans will call me a Jew.” Closer to home we see this as both Australia and NZ compete to lay claim to actors, sports people, even desserts that have achieved lofty heights. Anything associated with success we want to be associated with. This is completely at odds with the infection of Tall Poppy. The fact that we achieve in spite of Tall Poppy creates the tension of oppositions we talked about but the fact that we WANT to achieve completely disputes that Tall Poppy Syndrome should exist at all. So is this a sign we are casting off the Tall Poppy thinking? Or that perhaps it was never really an issue to start with? And what if we are happy – just as we are? Once we have our boat and bach is it really so terrible to want to opt out of further battles? It’s not necessarily small thinking but rather being content and satisfied with what you have. There is many an adage to advocate this as a virtue too. Is there anything wrong with wanting a simple life? We are encouraged to think big but at what cost? Part of the magic of New Zealand is in its simplicity. Its more relaxed lifestyle and work life. America is often held up as the anti-Tall Poppy example but is the rampant confidence and self promotion really all that appealing? I think the key is in not feeling like we HAVE to diminish but having the choice and choosing to be humble and gracious. Not feeling threatened by others’ success but neither blowing hot air about our achievements all the time. Yes there is a tension between these two extremes and it is a fine line to walk. But we can do it; after all we are Kiwis.   Credit to: Auckland Young Professionals

About the Author: The above article on Does NZ cut down the Tall Poppy was written and provided by Brent Palmer, a local leader in the field of Richmond and Nelson Real Estate sales, marketing, advanced technology for home selling, and social media.

You can contact Brent Palmer here, or at 027 544 9921. He has helped many people buy and sell homes in the Nelson, Stoke and Richmond areas for years, and would love the opportunity to help you as well.

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