I have a friend who has taken to reading my blog and then criticising the things I have written about. “Hash browns?” he’ll text, “…how lame!” or “I can’t believe you write a whole post on what you wear – how vacuous.”
I have noticed that people really love to criticise people who are doing things that they wish they had done themselves. The friend I am describing is an artist, or should I say, should have been an artist but was too lazy to ever do anything about it. He would spend hours and hours telling me about projects he hoped to do one day – and you guessed it – they never get done.
Tall poppy syndrome and dealing with haters
This is something we know very, very well in Australia and I can say that it does not exist so much in the UK and in the USA. According to Wikipedia: Australia’s usage of the term has evolved and is not uniformly negative. In Australia, a long history of “underdog” culture and profound respect for humility means that we cannot tolerate someone we perceive to be “up themselves” or full of pride. This may be a historical consequence of Australia’s English feudal heritage. Our Australian convict history set up an us and them mentality, or the “Tall Poppy Syndrome”.
Got that? A profound respect for humility.
I understand a little about this syndrome because I spent a couple of strange years in the American school system as a child. From the ages of 6 to 8, I was allowed to freely express my little heart out, and I enjoyed school almost every single day. My teacher was American and many of my fellow pupils were too, with lots of internationals thrown in. The school I went to was the American Embassy School in New Delhi.
Aussie kids vs. American kids
Problem was, when I got back to Australia, everyone thought I was “up myself” which is an Australian expression meaning vain and boastful. Children in Australia are not taught to speak their minds, they are not taught to broadcast their achievements. This is painfully apparent to me when you see a little kid being interviewed on the news after a house fire or something. When the newsreader puts the mic up to the mouth of an Aussie kid and says, “What happened?” the Aussie kid will say (even if they are as old as 8 or 10), “Ummmmm….eerrrr. I…. dunno. There…. uh… was a fire.”
Whereas if you ask an American kid in the same situation, “What happened?” he’d be able to say, “I saw the fire approaching and I ran to the house to get my dad. My dad was able to get my mother and dog out of the house and we called the fire brigade.” Dealing with haters can be tiring.
American kids are taught how to speak up for themselves. Aussie kids are not.
Acting in LA and talking yourself up
I have a friend who moved to LA. She and her husband are established actors with many film and TV credits under their belts. She too pointed out to me that Americans don’t have as much trouble talking up their achievements as Aussies do. Typically, in Australia if someone asks how you are going with work, the appropriate thing to do is to downplay your achievements, The more you have actually achieved, the less you are encouraged to say.
So my friend in LA would find herself in a dinner party conversation, talking about her acting work and totally downplaying it, which she said actually confused LA-types who were much more used to people talking UP their achievements than talking them DOWN. No need to go dealing with haters.
Australians HATE airs and graces
Peter Hartcher of the Sydney Morning Herald has an opinion on this: “(Australian) Citizens know that some among them will have more power and money than others… But according to the unspoken national ethos, no Australian is permitted to assume that he or she is better than any other Australian. How is this enforced? By the prompt corrective of levelling derision. It has a name—The “Tall Poppy Syndrome”. The tallest flowers in the field will be cut down to the same size as all the others. This is sometimes misunderstood…It isn’t success that offends Australians. It’s the affront committed by anyone who starts to put on superior airs.”
Personally, I find that some of the most successful people I know talk themselves UP. One of the radio announcers I produced for was a master at this. He constantly talked up his talent, his show, his co-host, his guests and made them sound more professional and more important than they were. And you know what? It worked. In the ten years I knew him I saw him go from a nights announcer to the number one music jock in the country. He now earns two million a month, from what I have been told.
So talk yourselves up, people! Don’t let people cut you down. They’re probably just envious that they aren’t doing anything with their lives and you are.