Australians and the ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’

I was born and grew up in Australia and can say that as a culture and race of people, we have pretty much mastered the art of avoiding appreciation. This is kind of funny really because there is so much to appreciate about Australia, our culture and landscape. There are so many awesome and amazing people that I have met and been privileged to know in Australia!

However, it appears to me that many habitual aspects of our language and ways of interacting with each other can block truly appreciating one another.

We have the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ – an agreement in society that no one should big-note themselves or talk themselves up too much for fear of being bigger or better than anyone else. It is definitely frowned upon to talk yourself up and many times as I was growing up, I often heard criticism, indicating that it was not the done thing to love yourself in any way, shape or form.

Now I understand that being arrogant or superior towards others is not a good thing, but have we actually thrown the proverbial baby out with the bathwater here? In our fear of seeming superior or arrogant, have we gone too far the other way? Have we actually made it more difficult for us all to actually feel good about ourselves?

What is wrong with sensing that you are amazing, awesome, beautiful, graceful and even talented or useful to have around? It is almost like we have some kind of unwritten contract that says that nobody can shine too brightly. So if anyone breaks this contract and starts to truly appreciate themselves, they get noticed and brought back down to size. Humility is a good thing but lack of appreciation is not.

I am also not talking about big noting yourself in some kind of delusional self-grandeur, false confidence or bravado. This is not true appreciation; it is just showing off and attention seeking behaviour. Craving for and continually seeking attention or recognition has nothing to do with appreciation and in fact stems from a lack of it.

Another enemy of appreciation we have is the ‘pay-out culture.’ In our conversations with each other we are continually putting each other down with comments that are disguised as humour, but are actually thinly veiled attacks and the opposite of appreciation. Many times in my life I have prided myself on being quick with a witty, funny or scathing response or ‘come-back’ that I knew had hit the mark with someone else.

We have made it a national pastime to pick up on other people’s faults, imperfections or mistakes and undermine them, rather than appreciating the beauty in someone and building them up.

It is great to not take ourselves too seriously and to be light-hearted about our imperfections, however this feels different from ‘putting down’ someone based on their faults. ‘Pay-out’ banter can be a form of combat that avoids being open with others.

Often if we ever mention that we have felt hurt by something someone has said, we are accused of being a ‘wimp,’ a ‘wuss’ or a ‘wet blanket’ who is spoiling the fun; or the other excuse that is often used is that “it was just a joke, so get over it.”

There is a belief that you give as good as you get and that it is all ‘friendly banter,’ but the reality is these taunts and teases hurt and actually bring us down as individuals and as a society. They keep us separate from one another and do not bring us any closer together.

Also I have noticed that if we genuinely appreciate someone else and tell them how much we truly value them, it is often considered a bit weird and awkward in our society. We feel awkward for expressing our appreciation and also uncomfortable when receiving a genuine compliment. Why are we so hesitant and uneasy about appreciation?

Have we fully realised how much these patterns and contracts of behaviour are affecting our society? If we consider that low self-worth and self-esteem, lack of confidence, social isolation, feeling lonely, anxiety and feelings of rejection contribute to many of our self-destructive and self-abusive behaviours in our world, including over-eating, suicide, obesity, drinking, drug use, domestic violence, rape, murder, road rage, then why are we not considering the deeper reasons as to why these things exist?

Could valuing appreciation in our society once more be part of addressing these issues?

So maybe it is time to put down our ‘sharp-tongued weapons’ and ‘jovial’ wars? Maybe it is time to value each other more and see the beautiful qualities in all of us; encourage each other to bring more of this beauty in our interactions and appreciate the fact that we may seem different on the outside, but underneath the surface we are all yearning for a world where jealousy, hurts and insults are not part of our everyday.

We have all sensed that our societies fall short of the quality of life we all really want and that in many ways we are in a mess. Surely if we all support each other to shine more brightly there will be less darkness?

Is it possible that we can stop the insults, the putdowns and the ‘paybacks’ once and for all and be inspired by each other? Why would we choose to all stay in the mess together when we could be supporting each other to get out?

By Andrew Mooney BPthy (Hons) MCSP, Cornwall, UK, Physiotherapist, Complementary health practitioner

Related Reading:
What is the Science of Appreciation and how does it evolve all of our relationships?
Washing my Car: a Lesson in Appreciation and Self-Care
Life is Truly Magical

509 thoughts on “Australians and the ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’

  1. Putting people down, criticising, being sarcastic, harsh or that ‘friendly banter’ hurts. I feel disturbed in myself when I express it or it comes my way. It’s become a bit like swearing now for me. I do it but I feel unsettled during and straight after.

  2. I will have to take your word for it that it is an Australian thing, but as a European it seems exactly the same things play out here it seems to me to be a humanity thing as well.

  3. I love this line especially “Surely if we all support each other to shine more brightly there will be less darkness?” and “Why would we choose to all stay in the mess together when we could be supporting each other to get out? Absolutely, we have a choice whether to be inspired by someone leading the way with the torchlight or making it a reason to take offence based on our insecurities, and it is just a choice.

  4. A lot of nastiness can come out of ‘friendly banter’ and if you read the energy underneath often you can feel what the person is really feeling, be it resentment, anger, jealousy and the like. Life would be so much simpler if we voiced our dissatisfied feelings and left it at that.

  5. It certainly is a choice each and everyone of us can make, i know once I started to be honest about how I was living and the level of abuse as subtle as it maybe towards myself and others I could see how much this was effecting everyone. To say no to is to start with ourselves first and building that level of appreciation for ourselves first. Step by step we will return back to love as our premise.

  6. Totally need to reclaim and re-imprint the meaning of ‘being full of yourself’ to be one that is deeply appreciated within ourselves, equally so when we see it expressed by another, seeing it is an inspiration and a reflection of what our true potential is.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.