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Raising tall poppies

Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash
CHRISTY GREENALL talks with former youth worker and founder of E Tū Tāngata JAY GELDARD about the harm caused by Tall Poppy Syndrome, and how we can combat our ‘culture of criticism’ and support our kids to flourish.

We have a culture of criticism in New Zealand, commonly known as Tall Poppy Syndrome, which is so deeply a part of our way of life that we often don’t think about it. But this culture is harming us, and our kids. Jay describes it as the prevailing attitude that “your success is a threat to mine”.

This culture of criticism “is preventing us from striving to be all that we can be, from sharing our dreams and aspirations with others, from being vulnerable and asking for help when we need it,” says Jay.  “It can make us reluctant to risk looking stupid by trying something new. It can make us talk ourselves down before others get the chance to. We can feel uncomfortable if we stand out, even if we’re standing out for something good.”

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It’s time we started nurturing our tall poppies rather than cutting them down to size.

As Jay explains “When we talk about this with a room full of adults, we can see the moment they realise the enormity of the impact of Tall Poppy Syndrome in their own lives. Everyone has a story to tell.” And as our kids grow up within a culture so heavily influenced by Tall Poppy Syndrome, they’re being robbed of the chance to be all that they can be.

Tall Poppy Syndrome is preventing our kids from taking positive risks and trying new things, so they can avoid potential failure. Some young people dumb themselves down or don’t put in their best effort, because they don’t want to stand out and risk being pulled down. Tall Poppy culture teaches our kids to self-deprecate and to pull their own friends down. It makes giving and receiving compliments awkward and teaches our kids to see other people’s achievements as a threat, leaving them ill-equipped to truly celebrate and support one another.

What can parents do?

As parents, we want our kids to grow up in a world that embraces them and allows them to live to their fullest potential. Being aware of this culture we are surrounded by is the first step in making a difference. As you see examples of Tall Poppy Syndrome play out, name it and explain what would have been better. Encourage your kids to be proud of what they accomplish, and to encourage and compliment others when they succeed. Jay recounts when his son got a hat trick in cricket, “my immediate reaction was to say, don’t get a big head. I had to stop and challenge myself and say no, celebrate it.”

Who is E Tū Tāngata

E Tū Tāngata is an initiative aimed at changing this culture of criticism, building a culture where all people are valued. It provides free resources to schools, workplaces, sports teams and whānau around three simple ideas (referred to as strands): You Have Value, We Succeed Together, and Others Matter.

These three strands help combat the culture of criticism by instilling a sense of self-worth, encouraging people to work with others collaboratively, and empowering people to reach out and help others around them, which in turn builds their own sense of value. As Jay says “We want to change the culture for future generations, building a mana-enhancing culture, instead of a mana-depleting culture.”

Read more on helping your child succeed, with this story on The cost of winning.

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