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Ask Amy & the Tall Poppy Syndrome

Doug Garland
Doug Garland
3 min read
Ask Amy & the Tall Poppy 
Photograph by Tony Jaramillo

Table of Contents

Amy Dickinson, successor to Ann Landers, is the Chicago Tribune's signature general advice columnist and advises readers regarding their personal questions and pressing issues. Her column is syndicated and read around the world. The following article was published on April 8, 2023. It was sent to me by Dr. Stu Green, a professional colleague and friend.

It should be noted that Dr. Green was a hiking companion and sounding board for many of my medical and personal premises regarding orthopedic surgery and the Tall Poppy Syndrome (TPS). While we hiking one day I theorized that I had been tall poppied. Dr. Stu related that I could not have been tall poppied because I was not a tall poppy (TP). This statement was stupefying because I was observing many people like myself who were cut down but were not TPs. Reconciling this quandary was pivotal to my thinking and understanding TPS. I subsequently divided  TPS into two categories: peer to peer or private and public (see "The Anatomy of the Tall Poppy Syndrome").  



Debt talk hurts friendship

Dear Amy: I belong to a group of nine women who are all retired teachers of various ages. We have met monthly for 35 years.

We started this group because, although we worked for the same school district, several moved to different schools, and this was a way for us to stay connected.

In the past we have been respectful, loving and supportive toward each other. Lately I have not been feeling the love, and I am devastated.

At our last meeting I announced, very proudly, that my daughter (also an educator) received loan forgive-ness of $52,000.

My daughter has two master’s degrees and has been working with children for 20 years. She has paid promptly on her loans for 10 years now, and this debt forgiveness is truly a blessing.

When I mentioned this news, you would have thought I told them she’d robbed a bank!

All but one person (who I had told earlier and was very supportive) expressed their opinions about the loan forgiveness program and how they were against their tax dollars helping my daughter.

It is still raw. How do I heal?

Upset Teacher

Dear Upset: This episode has revealed the unfortunate dynamic created for some people when they learn about someone else’s windfall.

You’ve also stumbled into firsthand knowledge of how some people are responding to this life-changing debt forgiveness program.

People enjoying their retirement did not experience the crushing debt that many younger people have taken on fund their education. (My own debt, which took 10 years to pay off, was low-interest chicken scratch compared with what more recent graduates have had to tackle.) Furthermore, relieving these younger people of debt enables them to invest in their kids’ educations, as well as their own retirements.

You can heal from this by accepting the limitations of the people in your group. You’ve uncovered an indelicate side to them, but this reaction was not personal, to you or your daughter.

TPS Response

Ms. Dickinson's "unfortunate dynamic" is bad envy which might also include an ounce of anger. These two dark emotions are frequently found in the people who cut their peers down or private TPS. It seems Americans can identify these bad emotions - behaviors  but do not have a label for this type specific type of behavior (see, Peanuts 1959 - 1959).

These nine women are a tribe or peers. Teachers are a very egalitarian group and often espouse egalitarian principles. Egalitarianism is associated with private TPS and commonplace in Australia, home of TPS. A member of the tribe's daughter had a financial windfall which seemingly makes Ms. Upset unequal to her peers and is being cut down.

An extremely important concept herein is that personal beliefs control one's emotions. If the "group think" believes that the windfall was undeserved, bad envy is enhanced. Ms. Upset did nothing improper rendering her peers' opinions baseless.

These envious women will likely participate in "indirect" cutting down the Upset Teacher. This includes ignoring her for an extended period of time or giving her the "silent treatment." The younger set would exclude her from all things related to their social media circle.

TPS was reported in Ancient Greece by the historian Herodotus. The Greeks also described and practiced ostracism which was mostly driven by anger. Presently, Ms. Upset could be ostracized from the tribe, a least for a while.

Ms. Upset's alleged crime is sharing her daughter's joy. Let us hope the others find kindness, the virtuous antidote for bad envy, in their hearts and begin to share their friend's happiness. May her time in the penalty box be short lived.

Lastly, Ms. Upset should be aware of the 5 by 5 rule which has likeness to counting to 10 when one becomes angry. The rule states that if the situation is not going to matter 5 years from now, do not waste more than 5 minutes thinking about it.

Doug Garland Twitter

Douglas Garland, M.D. practiced orthopedic surgery for 37 years in Southern California. Doug was also a Clinical Professor of Orthopedics at the University of Southern California.