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Peanuts 1959

Doug Garland
Doug Garland
1 min read

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What does a 1959 comics trip of Peanuts and America have in common? Neither is aware of the appellation (the Tall Poppy Syndrome) or comprehends it’s concept, causes, and implications.

In the fifth century B.C., the Greek historian Herodotus described the tall poppy syndrome (TPS) metaphor. He described tall heads of wheat, not poppies, and directed the message to political leaders to cut down opposing tall heads of wheat so they could govern without interference. The Roman historian Livy would use the poppy itself in the metaphor in describing how Tarquin the Proud's (the last Roman king), son should govern his city by cutting down all tall poppy opposition.

The syndrome is found in many countries in all periods since then when an expanded description of the tall poppy is applied to people of distinction, not just political. Although the United States has more tall poppies than most countries, it remains unrecognized in this country without words, phrases, or metaphors to describe this phenomenon... even though it is commonplace (in other words, it is common but unrecognized). The closest phrase is "the person got too big for his breeches" or "Crab Mentality."

Enter Charles M. Schulz and his wonderful comic strip "Peanuts" with the perfect description of  TPS in 1959. He recognized the cutter's emotional make up (bad envy) but most likely did know it had a name nor did the majority of his huge audience.

Causes of TPS are mostly the so-called 'dark emotions' although some call them bad emotions (the same emotions may have a positive or good effect). Emotions most frequently found in the cutter are: envy, anger, and laziness. Cutters feel justified in cutting tall poppies down for their egregious acts which are commonly due to cuttees' pride (hubris), greed, or lust.

Until a disease is defined, it's impossible to identify a treatment or cure. The simplest method is to apply an opposing virtue to the dark emotion; bad envy is nullified by kindness. More importantly, identifying TPS is a window into a better understanding of the world, your country, your workplace, school and relationships. In doing so, you increase your own self-awareness and self-control.

If you do not believe me, ask Will Smith who was cut down after his egregious acts at the 2022 Academy Awards.  

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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.