- Tall poppy syndrome
Tall Poppy Syndrome (TPS) is a
pejorativeterm used in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand to describe what is seen as a leveling socialattitude. Someone is said to be a target of tall poppy syndrome when his or her assumption of a higher economic, social or political position is criticized as being presumptuous, attention seeking, or without merit. Alternatively, it is seen as a societal phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are criticised or resented because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers.
The term originates from accounts in
Aristotle's "Politics" (Book 5, Chapter 10) and Livy's "History of Rome", Book I. Aristotle wrote: " Perianderadvised Thrasybulus by cutting the tops of the tallest ears of corn, meaning that he must always put out of the way the citizens who overtop the rest." In Livy's account, the tyrannical Roman King, Tarquin the Proud, received a messenger from his son Sextus Tarquiniusasking what he should do next in Gabii, since he had become all-powerful there. Rather than answering the messenger verbally, Tarquinius went into his garden, took a stick, and symbolically swept it across his garden, thus cutting off the heads of the tallest poppies that were growing there. The messenger, tired of waiting for an answer, returned to Gabii and told Sextus what he had seen. Sextus realised that his father wished him to put to death all of the most eminent people of Gabii, which he then did.
This phenomenon is often interpretedWho? as being based on and resulting from a resentment of others' successFact|date=February 2007. On the other side of the coin, however, such critics see themselves, not as jealous, but as justly deflating the pretensions of those who take themselves too seriously or flaunt their success without due humility.Fact|date=February 2007 Apparent cases of tall poppy syndrome are thus often explained as resentment not of "success" but of
snobbery and . Those whose approach to success is seen as suitably humble can escape. Some Australasians who have achieved success and wealth without attracting such hostility include Dick Smithand Stephen Tindall.Fact|date=February 2007
Tall poppy syndrome is frequently invokedWho? as an explanation when a public figure is on the receiving end of negative publicity — even if such publicity can be seen as a result of that person's own misconduct.Fact|date=February 2007 In Australia, this claim has been made in the cases involving John Laws, Alan Jones, Alan Bond, Ray Williams,
Belief in the strength of this cultural phenomenon, and the degree to which it represents a negative trait, is to some extent influenced by
politics. Conservative commentatorsWho? often criticise Australians for their alleged desire to punish the successful. Sometimes, tall poppy syndrome is claimed to be linked to the concept of 'The Politics of Envy'Who?. Critics of the tall poppy syndromewho sometimes declare that the United Statesis relatively free of “tall poppy” attitudes. Americans are thought to appreciate the successful, seeing them as an example to admire and attempt to emulate. In the cultures of the UK and Commonwealth nations, such commentators assert, many resent success of their fellows. Fact|date=January 2008
In Australia, tall poppy syndrome is thought to be on the wane:
quotation|Top of the decline list is what is know (sic) as the "tall poppy syndrome," a phrase used to denote the ordinary Australia's lack of respect for wealth, power and assorted pretensions. Tall poppies could once expect to be cut down. This social leveling attitude went hand in hand with belief in concepts such as giving everyone a "a fair go."
This was a working man's country which believed — in theory at least — in a fair distribution of income and wealth, thanks in part to some of the world's most highly unionized workers plus a highly formalized system of wage bargaining and of compulsory arbitration of labor disputes.
But where once the "tall poppy syndrome" was a source of pride for many Australians, it is now widely viewed as an obstacle to success, wealth creation and excellence. None other than [former] prime minister John Howard has argued, "If there's one thing we need to get rid of in this country it is our tall poppy syndrome." [ [http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/02/26/opinion/edbowring.php Tall poppies flourish Down Under - International Herald Tribune ] ]
Some commentatorsFact|date=February 2007 have argued that tall poppy syndrome is a universal phenomenon, that is more common in some cultures. The concepts of "janteloven", or "Jante law", in
Scandinavia, and "A kent yer faither" (English: "I knew your father") in Scotland, are very similar. Similar phenomena are said to exist in the Netherlandsand American minority communities. Benjamin Franklin Fairless, president of United States Steel Corporation (1950), criticized such behaviour when he stated: "You cannot strengthen one by weakening another; and you cannot add to the stature of a dwarf by cutting off the leg of a giant." [ [http://www.bartleby.com/73/142.html 142. Benjamin Franklin Fairless (1890-1962). Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. 1989 ] ]
A related concept is that of a
crab mentalityin which members of a disadvantaged community are seen as undermining the success of community members. The image is drawn from the observation that a crab clawing its way out of a bucket (or barrel in other versions) is pulled back down by his fellows.
* Feather, N. T. (1989) Attitudes towards the high achiever: The Fall of the Tall Poppy. "Australian Journal of Psychology, 41," pgs.239-267
* The Jante Law
Harrison Bergeron, a dystopian science fiction short story written by Kurt Vonnegut about a future of enforced equality
* [http://www.convictcreations.com/culture/poppy.htm Flogging the tall-poppy syndrome]
* [http://www.anewnz.org.nz/vision.asp?id=1855 New Zealand’s Tall Poppy Syndrome and PC madness]
* [http://www.fulbright.com.au/events/documents/TomONeill.pdf Tom O'Neill, Viterbo University, 2005 Fulbright–Hays Seminar Abroad, Tall Poppy Syndrome: Bentham’s Utilitarianism in Australia]
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