There is no shame in trying – or is there?
Australians experience somewhat of an organ rejection towards individuals who stand out. What was so wrong with your life? Why do you need more than the rest of us? The job of the resulting ‘tall poppy syndrome’ is to keep, through shame, most people from wholeheartedly trying to improve their condition.
As somebody with a possessive, a-life-of-its own drive to improve human condition, starting with my own, I think of this phenomenon often. Especially when I feel the burn of a judging gaze on the back of my neck.
And I have come to conclude that the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ is not just an Australian problem.
All around the world, those who upset the status quo are subject to judgment and sabotage, both emotional and situational.
What is really stunning is not the fact in itself, but that you are more likely to get this reaction from those you know than from those you don’t.
Where it comes to parental alienation, most of us have been shunned and even ostracized by those who know us. Hey, many of us are flat-out blamed for the abuse we endure.
Why? Rationally: beats me. The course of history has only ever been changed by individuals pushing against the status quo, the truth of which Margaret Mead made all of us aware. So unless people don't see any need for change at all, you would think they accept that it may be spearheaded by somebody they know.
But I doubt this is a rational problem at all. How I can make sense of the attacks on the 'tall poppy' is that people are uncomfortable when ‘their own’ – however broad the definition – go against the status quo they have accepted, and may even benefit from. Perhaps because such defiance points to their complacency. Says something about them. The irony of this is that when we strive, we do it because we are driven from the inside, not because we want to cast judgement on those outside.
Unfortunately, this aspect of human nature means that o most people outside of the small, or tiny, or non-existent, circle of supporters, our suffering may be a commodity. Comparing it to their own superior condition, hearing it out, recognizing it with a ‘hum’ feeds their need for good-doing. As long as we suffer humbly, self-deprecatingly, it is almost palatable to ‘them.’ ‘Them’, mind you, can include both me and you when bias gets the better of us.
When we hurt apologetically, we are the lost souls that ‘they’ can serve without complex and confronting emotions. We might even get a casserole out of it.
But it is when we want to stop suffering; when we claim that our suffering is unnecessarily and preventable; when we demand that it should never happen again; that we turn the tables.
And fall out of grace.
That is when we suffer the full brunt of the ‘tall poppy syndrome.’
How dare we strive for a better lot? We, the inadequate, no-good, deadbeat parents that ‘they’ would never be?
How dare we go up against the sacred parenthood that our ex’s represent? How dare we claim that our children may hate us for no fault of our own?
How dare we suggest that a different model of parenting is possible? How dare we imagine that we, real and fallible and too often self-doubting parents, can offer something that the pitch-perfect mommy or daddy can not?
When we, as alienated parents for no legitimate fault of our own, get punished for trying to change the system that distributes power carelessly, assigns guilt thoughtlessly and disregards its impact on the children that will shape our society one day, we face the impossible question.
And that is why I wonder if as a matter of urgency, we must reframe and support individual aspiration, wherever we see it, before our hesitance further undermines our chances to improve society across the board.
Allow me to look into the 'tall poppy' analogy literally. Whist some of us may wish to argue that plants have free will, for the purpose of my illustration I will assume that they don’t. I doubt that any of the poppy plants tried less than others. The field we see is nothing less than the sum total of the hardest effort by each plant to reach water, harness sunshine and attract insects to spread its seed. The success of the taller ones may be merely accidental: the soil around them was just that bit more porous. So any random mutation that improves the plants chances has a greater chance of making it to its seed – and to influencing the overall gene pool of its species.
But what if a poppy weighed up its chances and decided not to put forward its best effort? Wouldn’t we think it silly; how can it be discouraged by today’s weather when tomorrow might be sunnier? And that overshadowing tree might find its end in the next thunderstorm.
Would not we view anything less than a wholehearted strife to ‘make it’ as an absurd if not a self-sabotaging act?
As the targets or otherwise opponents of parental alienation, sadly, we are millions. And in that, we are bigger than politics. We are mightier than flighty social opinion. We are here even as political will comes and goes. Together, we can confine parental alienation to history books.
Let’s hope we can count on each other, as on each poppy plant, to settle for nothing less than our best effort at the best possible future for our children and ourselves.