"The ethical idea of fairness, with all its many virtues, has sometimes been corrupted into a set of attendant vices. One such vice has been so widely perceived in New Zealand that it has its own name in common speech. New Zealanders call it "the Tall Poppy Syndrome." It might be defined as envy or resentment of a person who is conspicuously successful, exceptionally gifted, or unusually creative.
More than that, it sometimes became a more general attitude of outright hostility to any sort of excellence, distinction, or high achievement - especially achievement that requires mental effort, sustained industry, or applied intelligence. All this is linked to a mistaken idea of fairness as a broad and even-handed distribution of mediocrity. The possession of extraordinary gifts is perceived as unfair by others who lack them. Those who not only possess them but insist on exercising them have sometimes been punished for it.
New Zealand lexicographers believe that tall poppy is an Australian expression, which appears in the Australian National Dictionary with examples as early as 1902. It is also widely used in New Zealand, where it has given rise to a proper noun, an adjective, and even a verb. Successful people are called "poppies", and when abused for their success they are said to be "poppied" by envious others. In 1991, a Wellington newspaper reported that successful businessmen "are being 'tall-poppied' by other New Zealanders."
We were told by many people in New Zealand that the Tall Poppy Syndrome is not as strong as it used to be, and that it never applied to all sorts for achievement. One New Zealander observes that "there is no such thing as a tall poppy playing rugby." Nearly all New Zealanders take pride in the Music of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and in the mountaineering of Sir Edmund Hillary, who where rarely tall-poppied.
But other bright and creative New Zealanders have been treated with cruelty by compatriots who appear to feel that there is something fundamentally unfair about better brains or creative gifts, and still more so about the determination to use them. This attitude is linked to a bizarre and destructive corruption of fairness, in which talented young people are perceived as tall poppies and are severly persecuted. Perhaps to most deleterious work of the Tall Poppy Syndrome is done in school yards and classrooms among the young. In any society, nothing is more destructive than the persecution of children because they exercise gifts that others lack. It discourages not only excellence itself but the striving for excellence. Taken to an extreme, the great good that is fairness can become an evil, and even a sin - one of the Seven Deadly Sins, which is the sin of envy."
Fairness and Freedom (2012)
David Hackett Fischer