Colleague Niall Benvie made me chuckle with his ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ blog post recently. Once you get to grips with Niall’s skewed thinking (and I’m not sure I ever will), this particular post is a satirical poke at the Scottish psyche and its unwillingness to tolerate anyone who gets ‘too big for their boots’ or advocates innovative thinking.
Niall is Scottish by birth and can say such things without fear of a dawn raid from the Political Correctness Police. I was born south of the border and would suggest that such a trait is not confined to native Scots. Conservatism is a British thing, something we’re comfortable with. Innovation makes us nervous. Innovators are mavericks intent on upsetting the status quo; hellbent on making a name for themselves; obvious exploiters and out for their own ends. Like the over-ambitious poppy, they need trimming back.
Now, you might detect a raw nerve here and yes, hands up, I’m a bit pissed off. Why? Well because I’ve met many people (from within the conservation community) who don’t like tall poppies. They rub their chin long and hard and shake their heads. “It can’t be done.” “It’s not possible.””It’ll never work.” These chin-rubbers are often at the forefront of conservation policy making and in my humble view, forget one thing: one thing that was highlighted in a superb report called Branding Biodiversity. That is that for the vast majority of people in this country, nature conservation is a very long way down their priority list and if you want to address that, you need to tap into their value system. “People aren’t rational, they’re emotional” says the report. Quite so.
For my money then, anyone who puts their head above the parapet, tries something different, seeks to touch people on an emotional level, strives to be a tall poppy – they deserve encouragement, investment. They’re not mavericks, they’re heroes. We can sit and rub our chins as much as we like but in the meantime, we’re failing as a society to protect our most valuable asset.