I want to share with you a theory I have about tall poppies.
What happens to tall poppies? Tall poppies get … cut down.
Tall Poppy Syndrome is a cultural belief in New Zealand, where I now live. There’s a lot of resistance when people see others daring to raise themselves up above the crowd.
The proverb about tall poppies was first given to us by Herodotus, the Ancient Greek historian. He told the story of the emperor Tarquinius, who was read a message from his son which said, “how do we handle all these uppity merchants in the empire? How do we keep them from rising up and causing us problems?”
The emperor didn’t send a message back that said, ‘kill them all.’ What he did was draw his sword, and walked out into the garden, and silently cut down all of the tallest poppies. Then he sent the messenger away, who told the son what he saw, and the son understood this message. Tall poppies get cut down.
This is seen as a virtue where I now live. It’s because in New Zealand, everyone takes care of everyone else. Kiwis make sure that everyone has enough. These are noble virtues, but they can make it tough to stand out in the marketplace.
Marketing yourself is hard enough — it’s even harder when you’re trying to be the same height as everyone else.
Now, I don’t feel that naturally, because I’m an American.
In America we don’t have tall poppy syndrome. In America, the tall poppies are sometimes the only ones who survive.
So I have this theory, that tall poppy syndrome only happens in the nobler cultures, when the ground is even, and things are fair.
If the ground is uneven, there isn’t any tall poppy syndrome.
In egalitarian societies like New Zealand, and Costa Rica, where I raised my children, equality is highly valued. The Ticos in Costa Rica have a similar saying, ‘Cangrejos de cubo’ — a bucket of crabs. When you put a bunch of crabs in a bucket, if one of them tries to escape, it’s the other crabs that pull it…