BWW Blog: Meet Dearna Doglione - The Fear of Being a Tall Poppy
Growing up in New Zealand, many hurdles challenge genuine and talented purveyors of the arts achieving success both nationally and overseas. These can include lack of resources or funding, sparse education institutions, or the term I have personally heard more than once: "This is New Zealand, not bloody America!" If one finally breaks past these barriers and tries to make their dreams reality, there is suddenly the greatest hurdle in their path: Tall Poppy Syndrome.
Wikipedia defines 'Tall Poppy Syndrome' as "a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticised because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers". Those who are above the rest are the poppies, which are cut down by society.
A recent study at Waikato University (S. Spacey, 2015) found that public Student ID ranking systems in New Zealand universities caused students to perform lower in examination out of fear of being visibly placed above other students. Our students would rather do poorly than be judged for their successes.
But why does this matter to the performers of New Zealand? Can't we just carry on our unique wee journeys and not listen to the criticisms? Some argue TPS generates stronger leaders in the end. In some cases, yeah, I'm sure it's possible. But those are the exception.
The problem is children are being pushed back down when they stand up, high schoolers are being told to be realistic in their career choices; get a degree, get a job, get married and die like the rest of us. My Year 11 science teacher held me back from class to tell me that this is New Zealand - following my passion doesn't put food on the table. I should be doing something "smarter" for my future. It is abhorrent that as a society, we tell our children to be themselves! Be unique! Be good at something, but... not too good.
Whenever I have been lucky enough to work with international performers or directors, their main concern is always a Kiwi's lack of confidence in themselves as a product. We come across as unsure or even unprepared because we don't want to stand up above others, scared of what might happen if we do. Is that not the main lesson of any actor? Imagine, if we are afraid to stand out in auditions - how are they ever going to see how great we can be? How the heck will we ever get the job if we're too scared to reach up and grab it?
There is no rule saying you cannot be passionate and confident while still being nice. The most talented people I have met have been the ones that have touched my soul with kindness; it is not a mutual exclusion.
Go on. Reach. Be seen and be heard for what you have to offer.
Do not be cut down.