Tall poppy syn­drome is about peo­ple cut­ting down achiev­ers to hide their in­se­cu­ri­ties

New Straits Times - - Opinion -

WE some­times have a strange way of re­act­ing to suc­cess sto­ries of our fel­low Malaysians. We are also quick to shoot down any dare-to-dream am­bi­tions.

In the re­cent in­ci­dent of the vi­ral video in­ter­view with Natasha Qisty Mohd Ridzuan, who scored 9A+s in her Si­jil Pe­la­jaran Malaysia (SPM) — we all read how she was sub­jected to a tor­rent of hu­mil­i­at­ing at­tacks on­line for speak­ing Malay with an English ac­cent.

On the other hand, when Faiz Subri won the Puskas Award early this year, the com­ments on so­cial me­dia con­demned his lack of com­mand of English.

If there was news on lo­cal ed­u­ca­tion achieve­ments on the In­ter­net, there would be at least one com­ment down­grad­ing our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem in­stead of recog­nis­ing the schol­arly at­tain­ments.

A con­struc­tive crit­i­cism is when ad­vice is given with good in­ten­tions be­cause they want to see the per­son grow and pros­per.

The vin­dic­tive com­ments shared on­line — like those about Natasha or Faiz — some­times sound as if they were made just out of spite to tar­nish cred­i­bil­ity or keep­ing them down.

The In­ter­net makes it easy for trolls to hide in the shad­ows. It dras­ti­cally in­creases the abil­ity to shut off the em­pa­thy vir­tu­ally, al­low­ing them to emo­tion­ally di­vorce them­selves from peo­ple they don’t like and those they don’t know.

There is a term used to ex­plain Ne­ti­zens’ re­ac­tions. It is called the “tall poppy syn­drome” — a phe­nom­ena of a so­cial cul­ture com­monly iden­ti­fied in the United King­dom, Aus­tralia and New Zealand.

Pop­pies are beau­ti­ful flow­ers that stand tall from other flow­ers. A tall poppy is de­fined as a high achiever who stands above the crowd and the back­lash. The tall poppy syn­drome is the re­ac­tion of those less suc­cess­ful to “cut down” what they think as an os­ten­ta­tious con­duct or dis­play of be­hav­iour to nor­malise th­ese suc­cess­ful in­di­vid­u­als.

Per­pet­u­at­ing the tall poppy syn­drome is like cut­ting down achiev­ers for no other rea­son than to mask one’s own short­com­ings and in­se­cu­ri­ties.

Th­ese sorts of so­cial psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­cesses — per­haps symp­to­matic of so­cial in­jus­tice, eco­nomic dis­ad­van­tage or dis­en­fran­chise­ment — are likely to oc­cur in many so­cial groups, in­clud­ing busi­nesses, pol­i­tics or even the school en­vi­ron­ment.

Some ar­gue that the tall poppy syn­drome is not broad re­sent­ment at other peo­ple’s suc­cess, but is rather a lev­el­ling so­cial at­ti­tude, an at­tempt to de­flate the pre­ten­sions of those who flaunt their suc­cess with­out due hu­mil­ity.

Do you think we have a tall poppy syn­drome go­ing on in our coun­try? The more I read about it, the more fa­mil­iar it sounds, sim­i­lar to the on­line at­tacks.

The dan­ger of this tall poppy syn­drome is that it would lead to a cul­ture of re­sent­ment, in­di­rectly striv­ing to cel­e­brate medi­ocrity

WED­NES­DAY, MARCH 29, 2017 while putting down suc­cess­ful in­di­vid­u­als and even ideas.

For Aus­tralians, it is said the syn­drome is rooted in their cul­ture; it had ruined the suc­cess of creative and en­er­getic peo­ple and in the long run, hurt the econ­omy.

A re­search has found that Aus­tralian high-per­for­mance schoolage ath­letes be­came vic­tims of the tall poppy syn­drome.

It re­vealed that th­ese fe­male ath­letes — com­pet­ing at na­tional and in­ter­na­tional sports events — were bul­lied at school about their sports achieve­ments by less suc­cess­ful stu­dents. Find­ings in­di­cated that the bul­ly­ing had re­sulted in a detri­men­tal im­pact on their school life and well­be­ing.

It is quite com­mon for us to iden­tify the tra­di­tional pat­terns of bul­ly­ing in school en­vi­ron­ments, which are usu­ally of vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren, such as those who had few friends or poor body im­age.

But, there is also the like­li­hood of vic­tim­i­sa­tion even among high achiev­ers, who might be os­tracised or alien­ated by their peers. I won’t be sur­prised if sim­i­lar bul­ly­ing takes place in our schools and may af­fect more stu­dents.

When those high achiev­ers are vic­timised, the neg­a­tive con­se­quences can be mag­ni­fied. This could be be­cause they had more to lose or, per­haps, be­cause they were more un­sus­pect­ing vic­tims. High-per­form­ing pupils can ex­pe­ri­ence more de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, anger and so­cial marginal­i­sa­tion as the re­sult of bul­ly­ing.

We have taught our chil­dren, gen­er­a­tion af­ter gen­er­a­tion, about how to be street-smart. In this dig­i­tal age, par­ents and teach­ers re­quire a greater aware­ness about tall poppy syn­drome be­hav­iours, and teach­ing them to han­dle cy­ber-bul­ly­ing as well as dig­i­tal em­pa­thy. Schools should pro­mote an anti-bul­ly­ing cul­ture that in­cludes re­silience train­ing for tal­ented in­di­vid­u­als.

Things might still be frag­ile in our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and there is more work to be done. But, it is also vi­tal to recog­nise the achieve­ments of Malaysians. We need to pro­tect the tall pop­pies who de­serve their high sta­tus be­cause they may do so much to pro­mote the ad­vance­ment of our coun­try.

The writer left her teach­ing ca­reer more than 20 years ago to take on dif­fer­ent chal­lenges beyond the con­ven­tional class­room. As NST’s ed­u­ca­tion editor, the world is now her class­room

A tall poppy is de­fined as a high achiever who stands above the crowd and the back­lash.

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