Ground Culture: Why People Can Hate You If You Stand Out

Ground level culture: Why people can hate you if you stand out

People have many great contradictions. One is the difficulty of sincerely valuing the virtues of others without feeling threatened or bothered by it. It’s not exactly jealousy. It is the so-called ground level culture.

The ground level culture shows us that when people stand out too much in one area, they can generate hatred in others. That hatred as such cannot be called envy. Rather, it has to do with the fact that the success of others makes one’s own limitations more visible and noticeable.

In other languages ​​they have called this ‘high exposure syndrome’. In Dutch, however, we know it as ‘ground culture’. The logic behind this name is that of cutting off the flowers that grow more than others. This is so people don’t miss anything when they make comparisons.

Where does the syndrome come from

People say that the ground level culture has the first references in the books of Herodotus and the reflections of Aristotle. It also appears in a story by Livio about the tyrant ‘Tarquino the proud’ .

According to Herodotus  , the emperor sent a messenger to ask Thrasybulus for advice on the best way to maintain control of the empire. The messenger asked him, but Thrasybulus only began to walk among the cornfields. Whenever he found an ear of corn that was higher than the others, he cut it off and threw it on the ground. And yet he didn’t say a word.

When the messenger returned to the emperor, he told him about the strange behavior of the counselor. The emperor understood. The meaning of the message was that he should eliminate anyone who rose above the others. Eliminate the best and most promising people. That way, his power and rule would never be questioned.

Ground level culture in today’s world

It is clear that tyrannies do not allow the emergence of striking figures. Their superiority can threaten those in power. In the field of politics, it is common for those who challenge the status quo or the ruling power to be discredited. However, ground level culture is not only about political matters.

In our daily lives we can see how we are invited to distinguish ourselves from others. At the same time, however, we have to stick to some very clear limits. They tell us that we only have to stick to certain parameters of what it means to be successful. For example, the “employee of the month” isn’t necessarily the one who grew the most or contributed the most relevant input. It’s usually just the one who fulfilled all the right goals.

If this happens, there is no problem. The plant that has grown more than the others will not be cut off at the root. He did what the gardener wanted! On the other hand, if someone stands out for reasons that are not considered legitimate, they are likely to raise suspicions and end up being disfellowshipped.

The syndrome works in two ways

The ground level culture creates consequences in two different dimensions. The first is what we have already mentioned. There is an almost natural tendency to avoid standing out too much because it creates insecurities or the feeling of threat in others. Therefore, those who stand out are often criticized with excessive severity. It’s either that or too much is expected of them. Another option is to tone down their talent or achievements.

The second consequence of the ground level culture is that it teaches people to be afraid to stand out. It is precisely through everything we have mentioned that people learn, more implicitly than explicitly, that standing out among others can be a risk. A risk for what? Rejection, questioning, criticism and even exile.

Therefore, many assume that it is in no way right to stand out. They keep a low profile and hate the idea of ​​being noticed by others. Somehow they end up being trained not to challenge the norms. This is of course a real shame. As a result, real skills are lost, real talents are disregarded and success is renounced. 

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