The rising of ‘tall poppy syndrome’ on social networks

This commentary expresses the personal views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect BERNAMA’s stand on the matter.

KUALA LUMPUR: Puji Lestari does not look like a typical speed-climbing athlete.

The 28-year-old Indonesian stands at 5’3”, cuts a slight figure and wears the hijab.

So when she stood in front of her more athletic-looking opponent during a speed-climbing event at the recent Asian Games, many thought the odds were against her.

How surprised they were, then, to see her climb the wall with breathtaking speed and agility, reaching the top seconds before her competitor.

A videoclip of the event went viral among Malaysians on social media, drawing amazement from viewers.

But awe was unfortunately not the main reaction on social media.

Some were simply unable to accept that someone of her appearance was able to demonstrate such athletic prowess.

Snarky and rude comments littered the comments section.

Some accused her of having “home ground advantage” and “memorising the steps”, ignorant of the fact that speed climbing routes are standardised across the world.

Instead of praising what must have been the result of long and rigorous training, they chose to belittle her success.

There is a name for this social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked and are determinedly “put in their place”.

It’s called the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ and was first recognised in Australia.

It originally refers to a tendency in Australian society to try and cut down people who are considered to be too successful or prominent (cutting the tall poppies down to size).

However, it is apparent that not only Australian society is susceptible to this syndrome.

Malaysians, too, have a tendency to elevate themselves by denigrating others.

This tendency is even more prominent among youths on social media, and can take on the form of cyberbullying.

This was what happened to Natasha Qisty Mohd Ridzuan from Tunku Kurshiah College (TKC) when she was interviewed by a TV channel for her stellar results in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination, last year.

Instead of congratulating her on her success and hard work, society chose to focus on the amount of make-up she wore to take her examination slip.

The 19-year-old was also attacked for speaking Malay in a ‘westernised’ accent.

Natasha Qisty was obviously a victim of envy as she possessed both intelligence and beauty.

Society seems to believe that you cannot be both intelligent and beautiful and can only one or the other, or none at all so that everyone would be on the same ‘level’.

Nasty comments were subsequently left on Natasha Qisty’s social media accounts by cyber bullies, forcing her to shut the accounts down for some time.

It is strange how the tall poppy syndrome exists in our culture as the Asian culture has always emphasised on being considerate to one another. Perhaps it is not the tall poppy syndrome that gives rise to bullying, but the other way around.

In 2015, Unesco conducted a study based on cases of cyberbullying in 25 countries.

Malaysia is at 4th place with 33 per cent of the 7,600 children and teenagers having experienced cyber bullying.

Children today are given access to the tools and means that help them get on a platform they are not matured yet to use.

Parents give them unfettered access to smart gadgets and the internet, allowing them to expose themselves to social media at an age when the mind is still impressionable.

It is imperative that we address this social malady at its roots because punishing other people’s success, especially those of our own countrymen’s, is not only bad for society but the economy as well. — Bernama

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