Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tall Poppy Syndrome

Australians have an idiom: Cut down the tall poppies.  It means to criticize, attack, or resent people whose genuine merit or talent elevates them above their peers.  This is a deeply imbedded social phenomenon which powerfully influences Australian culture, as I see it, both for good and ill.
I spoke with a high school teacher this weekend, who described with disgust the lack of academic excellence which he has encountered over his many years of teaching.  It is part of school culture, he informed me, for a student to avoid distinguishing himself by his intellectual strength, lest he be labeled uncool.  The headmaster of the school where our children attend recently wrote an article lamenting the lack of opportunities for academically exceptional students within the Australian educational system.

The obvious problem with the tall poppy syndrome is the resulting drift toward mediocrity in all arenas of society.

But let's talk about the power of  cutting down the tall poppy for good... One of the first differences I noticed on arrival in Sydney was that taxi passengers ride in the front seat with the taxi driver, and they typically engage in conversation throughout the trip.  Why?

Because when no one stands out from the crowd as more talented or more powerful, we are equals.  Not just as stated in political theory, but in practice. Embedded within Australian culture is humility and respect for neighbor.  

We as Americans are known for our "beautiful abundance..."  The eloquently Aussie way of saying, Americans seem always eager for more, for overindulgence.  For this American girl who has bought the national notion that bigger is better, that striving for excellence is a virtue, I am now beginning to see the impact that has had on me.

I have never felt good enough.  There are other factors which have contributed to that feeling, but certainly a major contributor is society's claim that individual achievement is virtuous.  We have classrooms full of perfectionists who feel worthless unless the star achiever. Girls starving themselves to achieve the perfect body.  Hordes of people lining up to become the next American Idol, a superstar.  A culture that makes us believe we must be excellent in order to have value.

So here's to being just good enough.

Just good enough in my marriage.  I will never be the perfect wife which I have spent years imagining I should be.  Perfect is not real. Any effort toward perfection will end poorly, laced with resentment and delusion along the way.  I will never be the perfect mother.  If they are honest, my children will acknowledge both my love and my failings.  Never the perfect Christian.  Kind of defeats the whole purpose of the gospel.  Never achieve that longed-for feeling of contentment, toward which I expend such energy.

This side of eternity, I will only ever be good enough.  And that's good.  Because that's real. Wow. That feels good.  What a relief.  Rest from the striving.  

Just good enough.

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