UNIVERSAL MAN – EP 11 – TALL POPPY
“Your candle doesn’t glow brighter when you blow someone else’s out”
What is Tall Poppy?
The ‘tall poppy’ is a mentality that seeks to put the performance of another down in order to feel good within our own mediocrity. Tall Poppy thinking is at home in the herd. In the herd mentality the sheep flock to the pool of the lowest common denominator – of mediocrity to help them feel better in their own lack of courage to risk and dare and dream to become their best self. Tall Poppy thinking is not about the object of the criticism but more about the thrower of the mud, the cynic and the armchair critic. Rarely will you find tall poppy thinking come from those who have shed the blood and sweat of real battle.
The effect upon the person seeking to be their best self when confronted by mud-slingers can be devastating. At the recent Commonwealth Games, Emily Seebohm challenged many elements of the Australian media who appear never to be satisfied with anything less than a Gold medal from swimmers. At this Commonwealth Games, the Australian swim team was highly successful if you measure success in Gold Medals won. The accolades in the media were generous. But what if in those many ‘close calls’ – eg the final swim of the met where the Australia team of Larkin, Packard, Irvine and Chalmers touched the wall .09 seconds ahead of the English, we had come second or third and our overall medal tally had been significantly less. Would the media be howling for blood? In former Commonwealth and Olympic games despite thousands of hours of training and often putting in ‘personal bests’ sections of the media have been scathing of our swimmers’ performance.
So often those on the end of the tall poppy put down can lose confidence. When you are exhausted and given your all and often in a quite vulnerable place the ill-informed mud slung to create a headline can truly hurt and sap confidence. Tall Poppy putdowns can create a loss of perspective and those who have given their all can give credence to the armchair critic. At times this can lead to a diminishment of trust; in self, in the other, the team and the wider community that you have given your best to and for.
Most elite athletes have a more hardened shell the product of performing in the glare of public scrutiny. Many others who perform to their best in the sports venues of suburbia don’t have the luxury of a sports psychologist to help them weather the storm. The self-doubt can kick in, the teasing can become part of the bleating of the herd and the courage to ‘get back on the horse again’ may flicker and die.
The effect on the cynic, critic or mud-slinger is significant too. The easily flung insult or criticism, the bleating bahhhh often hidden among the herd, or the snide barb fired at the vulnerable can deepen the victim persona of the bully firing the arrow. Each barb digs the hole of fear and mediocrity and negativity deeper. Each bit of digging makes the effort to be YOUR best self-harder. Sadly there is a communal side to all of this and the negativity and cynicism can hook the same energy among others and this only reinforces the spiral that robs the individual or the community of the noble journey to be their best.
What do we know about the tall poppy mentality?
Putting the other down so as to feel good about yourself comes from a space of your insecurity. The energy is other focussed in a non-reflective way. The green eye of jealousy is not far below the surface and the pleasure one may feel in dumping on the other is always short-lived and ultimately self-defeating – you invariably end up feeling worse about yourself. Hidden in the ‘put down’ energy is the fear that WE are not good enough. The cynic and the critic are marching to many drums; the herd, the populist, but never their own.
One of the good things about being at the end of a tall poppy attack is that it can help you on your journey to an even greater personal freedom. We are not really free when we are constantly concerned and losing energy to what others say or think about us. When we go within and are clear about our own goals and expectations and choose to put our best efforts forward we slowly grow to know that that is all that matters. Our honest efforts when placed against our own expectations give us a freedom to be the ‘best me I can be!’ As the uninformed criticism or cynical tall poppy attack of the other comes our way, we slowly grow beyond and above its effects; we gain an ever deeper personal freedom and resilience. That does not mean that we are not open to true constructive criticism. But we are more ‘at home’ in our own skin.
We all fail, we all have feet of clay; no one of us is perfect. The journey of life is NOT about perfection. So when criticism comes our way, as it will, part of the journey is to acknowledge the element of that that we have personal control over and responsibility for. Then we reflect and learn from it and then make the choice to move on stronger and wiser. The Steve Smith ‘ball tampering’ incident is a classic example of this. Smith did the wrong thing and no-one, including Smith himself, has questioned this. The crucial thing is what he has done with the incident. He went inside (gain perspective), reframed the situation for himself and then in true humility came back out, apologised and named the learnings for himself from it. Steve Smith will be a stronger and wiser leader of men as a result.
We know that in the tall poppy scenario that thrower of mud is invariably someone who has not risked to be their best self, has not gone out on the limb and who hides behind group thinking and the bleating of the sheep around them. As Adler says, “The place where people meet to seek the highest, this is holy ground!” The cynic and armchair critic ‘safely’ sets a standard and a level of scrutiny upon the other that they would never dare place upon themselves; there is a degree of hypocrisy there!!
How to respond to a tall poppy attack?
- The first thing to do when mud is slung at our best efforts is to stop, reflect and seek the wisdom that lays within the situation. Even physically stopping, taking a moment to regain perspective or stepping away from the noise surrounding criticism can be of great value. In this quiet space objectively look at your performance matched against YOUR expectations and criteria and hear again from within the beat of YOUR drum.
- Reframe the situation. Know that the attack is the other’s issue – not yours.
- If necessary work on a new narrative; your narrative – your story and effect and take on what has occurred. Sure in the midst of it you may be disappointed in your performance but it is a disappointment from within you and in the context of your goals and expectations.
- You perform to your yardstick; to your criteria – and you do not live comparing yourself with others.
- Refocus your goals and establish short, medium and long-term goals in the light of what you have learnt from the event and even the criticism.
- Seek out someone from your Wolfpack – someone that you trust – and check out if the ‘criticism’ is fair. The good friend can be honest and open with you and that is a great gift.
On your own or with a few mates, answer the following:
- How do I respond to criticism?
- How do I differentiate between fair and healthy criticism and a tall poppy put-down? What are my criteria?
- Who in my life do I have a tendency to ‘put down’? Reflect on the root causes around this?
Pricey and Grego