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