Every day we have opportunities to cut people down or to build people up.
Which will we do?
Are you familiar with a concept known as “The Tall Poppy Syndrome”?
The concept dates back at least as far as the ancient Roman historian Titus Livius (around 60 B.C. to 17 A.D.), who reported on the tyrannical Roman king Lucius Tarquinius Superbus taking a stick into his garden to cut off the heads of all the poppies taller than the norm as a warning of what his son should do to the most eminent citizens in the recently conquered city of Gabii.
Over the centuries, the concept of “The Tall Poppy Syndrome” has evolved from lopping off the heads of the most prominent citizens of a conquered city to common jealousy we might have toward anyone who may seem to be above us, and the desire to cut that person down to size.
Sherri Gordon sees this syndrome lived out in the realm of childhood bullying. She writes, “Sometimes envy rears its ugly head when a person feels a sense of inadequacy emptiness or unworthiness. In these cases, kids want to close the gap between what others have and what they want. So the goal behind their bullying is to bolster their own feelings of self-esteem at the expense of another person.”
Valerie Cade, the founder of Bully Free at Work, adds, “This is the same methodology a bully will take with…a high achiever. Workplace bullies by nature are very insecure people… They feel socially inadequate, behaviorally, and morally. While they present a public image of superiority, supremacy, and bravado, underneath it all they feel profoundly inadequate. Workplace bullies, rather than facing their inferiorities, choose instead to lash out at people who threaten their superiority.”
Unfortunately, when “The Tall Poppy Syndrome” rubs up against our insecurities, we get involved in cutting people down. We do it by shunning people (turning our backs on others or ostracizing them). We do it by gossiping about others. We do it by derisive comments or cruel words. We do it through acts of prejudice. We do it in words or attitudes of judgment against others. In various ways we engage in cutting others down to size.
As I read the Bible, though, it keeps calling me away from acting on the basis of jealousy toward others to acting on the basis of care for one another.
The New Testament contains 59 instructions pertaining to what we are to do for one another, including, love one another (John 15:17), be devoted to one another in brotherly love (Romans 12:10), encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11), be at peace with one another (Mark 9:50), be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32), forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32), bear with one another (Colossians 3:13), stop passing judgment on one another (Romans 14:13), pray for one another (James 5:16), serve one another (Galatians 5:13), and spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24).
We may be inclined at times to cut people down, but there is a better way to live.
In his book, “Tuesdays with Morrie,” Mitch Albom shares the life-lessons he learned while spending time with his old college professor Morrie Schwartz while Morrie was dying of ALS. One day Morrie asked Mitch, “Can I tell you the thing I’m learning most with this disease?”
“What’s that?” Mitch replied.
Morrie answered, “The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.”
Mitch adds, “His voice dropped to a whisper. ‘Let it come in. We think we don’t deserve love; we think if we let it in we’ll become too soft. But a wise man named Levine said it right. He said, “Love is the only rational act.”’ He repeated it carefully, pausing for effect. ‘“Love is the only rational act.”’”
Rather than cutting people down, let’s seek to build people up. ■
—Tom Tripp is the Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Colusa.