Tall Poppy Syndrome!

Recently, while doing a seminar in Tulsa, OK. I met a lady at one of the breaks who told me a story about a concept, which had marked her life.

Years ago, the company her husband worked for had transferred them to a spectacular, South Pacific Island.  As her husband was one of his company’s top people, they housed them in a large, beautiful home towards the top of a mountain.  It overlooked the town below and beyond that they saw the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean.  She told me in great detail how the panoramic view was one of the most awe-inspiring things she had ever seen.

For some reason though, it took them an unusually long time to make friends and to fit in with the locals.  For over a year, people in the town wouldn’t talk with them unless it was business related.  No small talk at all.  She told me that the locals stayed uncomfortably cold and distant towards her and her husband.

One evening while attending one of the company’s social gatherings, she heard about an interesting local cultural phenomenon.  She learned about a concept called the “Tall Poppy Syndrome.”

Most of the locals had small vegetable gardens. They grew poppy plants around the borders of these gardens.  When any of these plants began to grow taller than the others, the gardener would cut the tall plant down.  They didn’t want one plant to rise above any of its neighbors. 

This concept permeated many of the customs and thought patterns around the island.  When a person tried to better his or her self above what was considered “average” within the culture, the locals would criticize, resent, or ostracize the person.  They felt that they should all be equals.  Therefore, when the lady and her husband moved to the large home, up on the side of the mountain, the locals took offense because that wasn’t how “normal” people lived.  They were “too” high up.  So for a long time they socially rejected the couple.

It makes you think, doesn’t it?

I’ve heard it said that we will become the average of the five people we spend the most time with in life.  Who are you spending time with?  Do you spend time with people who encourage your growth or do you hang out with the “locals?”  Do your friends lift you up, or do they cut you down?  How about you?  Have you become so comfortable with what is “normal” that you’ve begun to feel a wee bit stagnant in your own life?

We all live within a comfort zone of our own choosing.  It’s been my observation that most of us live right in the center of that zone looking out beyond the borders, trying to maintain some sense of normal; scared of what might be out there beyond what we can see.  Our thoughts are, “Don’t make waves—just do and act like those around us.  Live the way they live; conform.”  (And by the way, those we are following have also conformed themselves!)

In the last few years I’ve found that when I choose to live with one foot in my comfort zone and one foot out, life is more enjoyable.  It’s scary sometimes, but fun and exciting none-the-less.  I’ve cultivated the habit of spending time with people who choose to grow and take risks.  They’re definitely more fun and interesting to be around, and they inspire me to pursue growth and to take risks within my own life.  I truly believe that God didn’t create anyone to just be “normal;” to just live out our days and follow the crowd.  Is it possible that when Henry David Thoreau said “Most men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them,” he was referring to this?

In the grand scheme of things we really are just poppies in other people’s gardens – our friends, our families, our associates, and our loved ones.  So whose gardens are you in and how are they treating you?  Are they helping you towards growth and adventure with the words that they use, or do their actions and words stunt your growth and hold you back?

And what about you?  Make no mistake that each of us also tends our own gardens.  In your garden are you fertilizing your poppies with words of encouragement and cheering them on, or do you walk around with a pair of pruning sheers in your hand…

It does matter!  Just a thought . . .

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