TALL POPPY QUALITIES – NZ
When I used to blog at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and Starbucks cafes in the USA, probably because I rarely stopped typing while never looking down at the keyboard either, people used to come up to me and say strange things.
One of the things was “there’s something about you. You’re like a flower.”
I’d always say, “I’m not a flower. I’m a freaking Maori. I always intend to be that way.”
What would follow, would be long philosophical discussions about theorists like Carl Jung (yawn!) and other university-taught Swiss-French-Jewish philosphers. I would try and weave in some Chalmers-Ashby Johnson into the conversation as a reality check to the normal narrative that had been the average American life’s path spanning the last ten years.
Unfortunately, the donut glaze would set in the eyes of most Americans who hadn’t even heard of him. Tho’ Ashby Johnson was American.
One night, just a block from my LA home, I saw this store front window display of a local tailor designer for 4th of July. The display was of tall poppies growing above garden boxes of cacti.
As mentioned before, my great grandmother was a pioneering farmer who doubled as a creative milliner. She spent many hours in prayer for New Zealand’s future too. So, the display stood out and somehow reminded me of her generation’s legacy, though I had not thought of poppies for a long time.
The store front window meant to show support for American troops in Afghanistan, said “We support you.” The poppy in this context was depicted as bold. A symbol of growing tall and being boldly visible. I’d never thought of that side to a poppy until the tailor’s display.
My heart also sank a notch, as in New Zealand we have what is called ‘the tall poppy syndrome.’ In the US Kiwis are more pursued as novelties, rather than clobbered for being Kiwi.
Tall poppy syndrome has nothing to do with gardening crops surveillance mechanisms or spying technology the media loves to write about and publish stories about in the USA to make people feel more filmmable and famous, or powerful with yet another version of a camera to capture the image.
In NZ, it is more to do with an attitude of keeping each other grounded and humble – in a rather unusual way that does (unfortunately) let you know you’re in the pack, a part of the gang.
The store front window, reminded me of how we can limit our capacity, in order to just stick tightly together by clobbering each other over the suede in jest. Sometimes too much clobbering, goes beyond sibling rivalry of cool though. It becomes abusive psychologically.
In NZ, the health experts then kick in and do their gig, suggesting that this advice will help you overcome ‘your’ depression. Funny.
It’s actually very Kiwi to create a mirage of our own ‘depression’ in New Zealand (or new takes on it) as we still think to be smotherly or brotherly, is Kiwi caring.
It also happens all too often, simply because we have always associated strongly to the rare Kiwi bird that’s denoted for always being grounded. We like being earthy in our identity, you see.
Sometimes we need to think more like a Te Karearea or a hawke (eagle) and heal our own culture just with elevated thinking that flexes the wings of our spirits more.
Then when the temporals of momentum stirs, we are at the ready to glide into new territories of change thus advancing our culture in powerful and meaningful ways. Our wings do the work for us on air, with less struggle in such moments, if we are prepared.
We become more like the vision of poppies allowed to grow tall side-by-side in the tailor’s store front window, rather than mowing one another down too much like a front lawn, over-and-above healthy sporting rivalry. Healthy kiwi rivalry is that distinguished Kiwi trait that makes New Zealand so cool and loved world wide.
My version of surviving tall poppy syndrome as a kid, was to pretend I was a bee. Meaning, I’d be the bait to protect the poppies I cared about (my friends) from predators seeking to plane them down.
I figured that it was always harder to hit a moving target so why settle for boring and stagnant – just dart and fly. Much more fun.
In this mode, no one saw the depression I’d seen and distracted friends from just by being a goofy idiot. Joke always on me.
I discovered through survival and by fluke of people who cared to give me advice, invest their time and the rich depth of wisdom found in the strong bonds of Kiwi ‘commeraderie - that there actually is no honey produced from poppies as glorious as they appear, without a busy bee in action. Being a bee is dangerous. You brave all kinds of opposition and elements to be a bee.
A thankless task. It’s often overrated.
I never set out to be a poppy, a bee, or a ‘refined’ Bastian eagle hawke either.
I was born in Fiji, so should have just chilled like a coconut on a palm tree or like a field of David Whippy‘s tropical sugar cane.
Taking it easy.
Sun up, sun down. Just growing all the day.
However, being brought back to New Zealand as a sprog, meant the be eagle poppy syndrome, kicked in as a natural compromise in spudding in to Kiwi culture the way it is.
I adapted to my own version of Kiwi navigation as a youth.
Being back in New Zealand, is like being typecast into that thinking again.
I am resisting it big time. Yet the ingrained culture is winning most days.
I like it and some days I don’t. It is like a straight jacket once designed by well meaning colonialists for their own ends, to bind. The model doesn’t fit well now so I find it difficult to pay overly amounts of homage to it too much. The world has changed.
Evolving abroad, I redesigned without knowing.
So, I am aware and quite conscious, that it is time to play a new game to evolve Kiwi culture stronger, quicker, more wisely.
As a Kiwi you turn to those who’ve had similar experiences abroad for inspiration through the rigours of knowledge only earned through high pressure travel experiences.
In today’s paper: here’s a social media sports star who helped shift my perspectives on that today in the form of a tweet. Thank Christ!
On twitter, Ali Williams tweets: “Isn’t NZ a great country we give a man (sir) a new job and all we look at is his faults not his qualities. Give him a chance.” The New Zealand Herald comments in Super 15, Thursday July 19, 2012, p.B4:
“Ali Williams asks the public to keep the tall poppy stuff away from Sir John Kirwan’s Blues appointment. (in bold) tall poppy syndrome is shocking in NZ.
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School of rugby’s hard knocks of Kiwi education - then:
The Merriam Webster dictionary on line defines qualities as being:
1. a: peculiar and essential character: nature – ethereal quality. b: an inherent feature : property – had a quality of stridence, dissonance. c: capacity, role – in the quality of reader and companion.
2. a: degree of excellence : grade – the quality of competing air service — Current Biography- b: superiority in kind -merchandise of quality
Origins: Middle English qualite, from Anglo-French qualité, from Latin qualitat-, qualitas, from qualis of what kind; akin to Latin qui who — more at who. First Known Use: 14th century.
The art of cross-pollinating and appreciating all of the finest aspects of New Zealand culture’s rich diversity.
Maintaining the art of being the understated best in the world.
[Photo: Ross Land - Getty Asia-Pac, Zimbio]
~Posted by Horiwoodblog, Aotearoa New Zealand, Polynesia Asia-Pacific. 19.7.12~