After the fairy tale ends, or No more cake!

I wrote this post and then thought it was self-indulgent, so decided to abandon it while driving to a new venue to run a workshop on leadership, change, motivation …  Then I arrived and there was no hot water, no working toilets due to the Big Freeze, no hot drinks, an overpoweringly hot crowded room, some disgruntled people –  and still the event went ahead (well, we did achieve one working toilet for 35 people after a couple hours and hot water for drinks)….A triumph over adversity or a mixed message?  You tell me.

If you’re reading this and you were there too, please read on.  It was an experience that’s fed in to my musings on what is happening in the world around us and in organisational life.

I thought, actually there’s something in this post after all.  If we can no longer even meet our basic needs in Maslow’s hierarchy and treat each other with humanity, how can we ever approach self-actualisation?

So here goes…

Frosted trees, Cotswolds – picture thanks to Chris Hill
‘Like a fairy tale’ – that’s what Dody said about HearthMusic Thanksgiving.  That was just what it felt like to me.  The remark resonated and spurred me on to make sense of the confused mess of reactions I’m continuing to have after the fairy tale ends.
I decided to google that phrase ‘after the fairy tale ends’ – to see what might come up.  I quickly got bored.  It all seemed to be about waking up to reality,  there is no ‘happy ever after’ etc.  Is that relevant to how I’m feeling?
The story of HM TG was easy to write as it was a factual and personal record, so it just flowed.  As I was writing it, I was very conscious that it was purely the upside of the whole experience and that as a blog is a public document, it wasn’t easy to write about the accompanying lesser upsides or downsides, or even the lingering questions, for a whole host of reasons.
My impression is that the story and the experience has been quite transfixing for some of you out there – and I guess that means I have successfully communicated how the experience has been for me.  I have been more than a little baffled by this because in the few days leading up to the concerts I had mixed feelings, I wasn’t completely looking forward.  So it was quite astonishing to be transported to such a different place, and really frustrating and unsettling to not be able to quite get back from there.  This is more than the usual sense of anticlimax after you finish a project or go on a special holiday, and I’m trying to work out why.
A whole host of thoughts come to mind, none are conclusive.
First off, actually it’s been an emotionally demanding year.  Most of the people I am working with are in such grim work environments, some have lost or are losing their jobs, many are wondering whether they will have jobs or what the workplace (and the world for that matter) will be like even if they do.  When I hear accounts of how these situations are being managed, on the whole it fills me with exhaustion and, well, despair may be too strong a word but just a sense of overwhelming weariness.  I have spent the best part of two decades trying to help people, teams and organisations become better, more effective, energising, more humane places to work.  Sometimes, particularly in a time like this which seems to be going on and on, it just seems a little pointless – even though I know how many individuals have developed, become more self-aware, found more satisfaction in their work and lives….but still, there is a limit.

If I come back to the venue that had no hot water, toilets etc – the story behind it is that it isn’t yet finished.  It’s being refurbished to save money on external venues.  In my view it will be serviceable when done but probably not up to external standards.  Does that matter?  No, it will fulfil the intended purpose.  What does matter – t0 me anyway – are the behaviours and treatment of people, each other, around that change, and now I am speaking more broadly than this experience.  Because everyone from the top down is feeling so sque-ee-eezed, there is little compassion for each other in this change process that so many organisations are going through at the moment.  Just a kind of ‘get on with it, stop complaining’, stoical quality.  While I dislike excess moaning and pining, I do think there is a case for appropriate, balanced recognition of the frustrations, disappointments and losses – as part of a necessary ‘transition curve’ to whatever the future holds.  If directors and senior managers weren’t feeling so bad themselves – and justifiably so as every budget round holds worse news for their organisations – they would have the personal wherewithal to do the humane thing – for instance in the circumstances I encountered recently, order a round of Starbuck’s coffees for everyone and cake!  But those resources of goodwill and care for others are being seriously depleted, and it is sad to see this.  Obviously there are still exceptions, but  even very skilled leaders like the ones at this event are being ground down by circumstances understandably and so those little details of care are falling by the wayside. 

I would like to be doing something with my skills and qualities that genuinely makes a difference.  Some days I feel I am, but increasingly facing the adversity of hostile environments, I feel uncertain.
This HM TG idea seemed to come out of the ether and now I’m wondering was/is the appeal partly escapism?  Or if I put that in a more balanced way, I think the appeal has certainly been the contrast with my everyday work environment – on just about every level, physical, emotional, spiritual.  The warmth, humanity, spontaneity and energy of the connections that I’ve written about in this experience are certainly a powerful antidote to the negativity in some of the other environments where I spend my time.
I am a great believer that we should all strive to spend as much of our time as possible in healthy, sustaining, nurturing environments.  This applies to me too!
The music I’ve always loved, and the type of music HM is about, takes me right back to my own roots – which must also be why the experience has been so overpowering.  It has been interesting to share the idea with my father who is nearly 90, still very mentally alert, and just about gets it.  He was a great lover of Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Pete Seeger, as well as Bob Dylan, and so I grew up on this music first.  He was intrigued and kind of transfixed by this idea of me getting involved in setting up home music concerts with what was for him a tangential link with folk and activist music.  There was a sort of intuitive approval.
And yet – the music business is a very strange business.  It’s not one I ever wanted to get involved with and while I find myself peculiarly fascinated with the rules and logistics as I of necessity investigate them further, I still feel distant.  Growing up in LA you can’t help but have a kind of vague awareness of this industry.  The closest I personally got to it was when Elton John played some concerts at the Troubadour which is a very intimate venue and some friends and I sent literally hundreds of postcards to get tickets and we ended up getting so many that we had to sell some of them.  So we became temporary ‘scalpers’ at the age of about 15 or 16 and met this very strange man on a street corner somewhere on the edge of Beverly Hills and sold him some tickets at extortionate prices (I am ashamed to admit!)  My mother was very keen on me making a profit….and encouraged me to write a story called ‘The Scalper’ about this which I may still have in a box somewhere.
This brief recent foray into ‘the music business’ has led me to feel – possibly inaccurately – what a strange lifestyle it is, how hard it must be to form genuine relationships and friendships, and how difficult it must be to keep a pure love for the art separate from all the other stuff around it, not least the need to earn a living.  In a way, that makes me want to scuttle back to my known worlds of organisational stuff and politics and bureaucracy – because at least that’s not about something beautiful at the centre.  But then it was the evenings of music and all the warmth and humanity around those which makes it possible to kind of tiptoe round, sweep aside, the other grittier stuff.  And this venture, HearthMusic, is all about genuine community development – a real Big Society, not just packaging to save money on the contents.
Where is the equivalent of those musical evenings in our organisational lives – especially at the moment?  Not in a building with no toilets and no hot water!  I guess I am struggling with that question right now, as I leave the music behind, at least for the moment.  Maybe some of you can give me some answers or opinions.
Sorry for the indulgent rant!  but I just can’t get rid of this stuff just yet.

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35 Responses to After the fairy tale ends, or No more cake!

  1. Tom says:

    “Where is the equivalent of those musical evenings in our organisational lives?” you ask.
    Now there’s a good question. Probably nowhere right now but perhaps there should/could be. “workplace concerts” anyone?
    That’s a very interesting piece of writing Karin. Thank you. Tom

    • Karin says:

      Tom, I like the idea of workplace concerts and had already thought of something along these lines. Let’s discuss! Thanks for your comment,

    • Stephen says:

      Where is the equivalent of those musical evenings in our organisational lives? Well as someone who has retired I no longer have these issues however sometimes life can be less than straightforward and I find the music on my iPod/iPhone is excellent for keeping me in touch with my feelings.
      At the moment I’ve just vacuumed the house listening to Laura Marling ( and stopping for a cup of tea and mincepie I thought – “life doesn’t get better than this”. This may be a clear indication of the simple pleasures I now revel in and of course nobody can disagree because it’s my life and they’re my feelings.
      So if you want to be lifted then I suggest taking time out at coffee breaks (do they still exist?) or lunchtime (legal requirement), plug in your earphones and lose oneself in your favourite music.

  2. Michael Reid says:

    The fact that you have HM TG is probably keeping you sane when dealing with such difficult issues with difficult people and difficult circumstances.

    There are some surprising incontravertable truths that I learnt in nearly fifty years working in both private and public sector.

    The public sector -particularly when aided by HR- could turn any difficult human situation into the most drawn out and cruel process. The HR processes were totally inflexible and hugely insensitive and cumbersome. (They would blame it on the law but that wasn’t really true). Do not carry the weight of that on your shoulders.

    The private sector (I was CEO of two quite sizeable ones) treated people far far better and like Macbeth if a bad thing were to be done ”it was best it were done quickly”. We would always look after people in difficulty or sick -way way beyond our legal obligations- it paid sensible dividends and there was a moral duty to do so. The staff did more than they contractually had to and so did we. That is part of leadership and team work.

    Your little example of no one sending out for coffee is interesting. Even in the public sector I would have paid for that coffee myself . (You have seen this in action). And for why on earth did they not find another warmer place ? The managers in your case clearly were not taking personal responsibility for their staff. I observed that in the public sector many (not all) people who were very well paid – often north of a hundred grand a year -wouldn’t dream of spending their own money on their staff- even though their high pay was being earned by standing on their shoulders. Again you cannot change this. So long as they are politically correct they believe their God excuses them all sins.

    Process driven worlds lack humanity. But they ease consciences.

    ”Where is the equivalent of those musical evenings in our organisational lives – especially at the moment?”

    The answer is in your question-don’t look in an organisational life for love and humanity.

    A stark parable for you. This is true.

    It has been very very cold here -minus 7 minus 8 at night. On Tuesday a friend calls . Her aged uncle has been missing for more than a day -he is driving a little white Renault. He cannot walk much but he can still drive. He often drives in and around our forest looking at nature. Is he here ? (He is not supposed to but when you are 80 everyone lets you do what you want). They have also looked in other forests where he goes and have not found him. He could be anywhere.

    Our forest is not far short of four thousand acres -a lot of space-and it is all white- covered in hoare frost (white Renault coloured). It is around 3.00pm I got into the truck and set off -and found a police car also looking. I showed them around and we searched every track until well past dark looking at all the possible places. A helicopter had also been put up and found nothing. It was bitterly cold.

    (I used to run a mountain rescue team and have searched and found many lost people before, I told the police that to search these huge woods would need a much bigger team than the three of us.)

    But you try. As you travel round you stop and look down every ride to see if he had gone into the woods and got stuck. It takes an age in the gathering gloom. The deer look back at you (that tells you no one is there). The wheels are not gripping well on the snow and ice so its necessary to be careful.

    There are many many tracks -the light is going fast now so you don’t waste time on improbable routes (no one would take a little two wheel drive car down there). This was a mistake.

    I also had a dental check up booked at 5.30 so there was a nagging part of me that wanted to say we had looked but he wasn’t here. I wanted to get to the surgery on time.

    At 5.00 pm we had looked everywhere and it was dark. We packed up. I rang Sue and and we had not found him. I went to the dentist.

    The next day in the afternoon someone from the shoot came across his car , nose down in a ditch -not in the forest but only just outside- on the edge of a field. . Sue’s Uncle had been in it for certainly two nights possibly three. He had been trying to drive back to a forest track and misjudged things. Obviously a great many unanswered questions. Ambulances , police, post mortems – process. But all the process in the world will not change the fact that I should have driven down that improbable track the previous night. I should have looked for the unlikely.

    This was only yesterday.

    Did I kill him ? no .

    Could I have saved him ? possibly.

    Did me adhering to the process of a dental check up cost him his life in the cold ? Maybe.

    Process and organisation can be the enemy of humanity.

    But do not cling to HM TG and drown it , the best things only work untrammelled.

    • Stephen says:

      Michael – I read the story in the local newspaper of the chap who went bird watching and failed to return home. He died in the countryside doing what he enjoyed. As to your part in this, well who can say?
      Life is so full of what ifs and I guess you know this better than most. I was reading today about the murder of John Lennon 30 years ago and in an interview 3 days before his death he said he didn’t want to die a hero, someone who would be held up like a god, he just wanted to live the rest of his time enjoying life. So what if he hadn’t died – he would look as old as Paul McCartney.
      Shit happens!

    • Karin says:

      Michael, thank you. I appreciate a lot of what you’ve written. The last sentence is very true. And yes, HM is both keeping me sane and rippling my sanity!
      As you know, I was thinking of you with the anecdote about the lack of hot drinks, toilets etc – which was true. And I have seen you deal with such circumstances with aplomb. I had the opportunity to discuss this situation after it was over, it was a good learning experience and the points have been taken for the future. I also have to ask myself why I didn’t challenge what was happening at the time. I find myself in a situation where on a daily basis minor things of this type are happening – I turn up at meetings booked months ago and no one knows I’m coming and they are all stressed, or papers haven’t been distributed etc etc. There is so much going on, so much chaos, so much stress, so little thought or control (in the positive sense of this word). I don’t take on others’ responsibilities, but I am there to contain some of it for people, help them make sense of it, and sometimes I just can’t. I feel myself kind of detaching from the insanity of it all for self-preservation.

      Your statement about not looking for love or humanity in organisations is bleak. If we cannot bring humanity and care to organisational life, I feel we are letting ourselves down. These are not too much to ask. It’s all about a general approach, state of mind towards life and others. Process does not have to be the sole or primary governor of organisations. Organisations can have informality, energy and passion – like HM does hopefully! – and they can still be profitable and successful (though HM is non-profit and voluntary).

      I always remember John N saying that we are all volunteers – it’s just that some of us are paid volunteers. (I may be misquoting here, but that’s the message I took away, and I have shared it with people who are feeling hard done by and it sometimes helps to reorient their relationship with their work.) I feel we need to have that relationship with our work and the organisations within which we work. Somehow that gets lost along the way, and maybe some people fear the responsibility that orientation brings.

      Your stark parable is very moving. But do not feel you ‘should have looked for the unlikely’. You did to a degree. You did what you could. In those conditions, of a rapidly descending dusk, you could not have done more.

      Thank you for your thoughtfulness.


  3. Madhu Sameer says:

    Hi Karin,
    Very thoughtful post. Just a few comments from me – there is no order to them though.

    When you say there is nothing beautiful at the core of organizations, I have to beg to differ and wonder why you feel that way ? Having worked in the technology industry, the work that we did was pretty fulfilling. I recently connected with some of my elementary school, middle school, high school friends on facebook. People I had deeply loved, but thought I would never ever meet. It was deeply moving. Every time, each encounter made me cry. To enable someone this way is pretty amazing I think. And I think not just technology, but every industry – except narcotics, drugs, alcohol and the like – provides opportunities for deep fulfilment, in my opinion, but only if a person wants to connect with their vocation. As for the rest, well even in creative arts, and especially in psychology – if people enter for financial gains only – life becomes a flatland, as you say. So in the end, it isn’t the job, its the mindset that makes for apathy and disinterest and disconnection. And like attracts like and becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Perhaps the music industry is special because people are dedicated to music, regardless of the financial outcome, but if the same dedication was apparent in other industries, people would be as fulfilled. Work satisfaction, if tied to financial incentives, can lead to dissatisfaction. Work, for the sake of work, is very fulfilling. And that dedication often leads to some kind of success. Perhaps thats the message that needs to be spread.

    Another thing that stood out for me was the expectations that we have of life. The inconveniences – no hot water, no toilets – are are reminder how complacent we have become that we can become distressed for the lack of these givens. Heck, disruption in internet for a few minutes distresses me! And yet, there is close to 70% of the world population that accept these interruptions as a way of life. The US unleashed war of terror on several countries after 911. India had its own 911 last year, but it handled it differently. Life goes on. People forgot and forgave and learnt to put it behind.

    And I think to myself – here I am all stressed out and when my internet doesn’t work for 2 days, I change the provider, expecting and exacting service ! And I come to the conclusion – all misery and distress is a creation of my own mind, but like a virus, I infect others with it and spread it around, whenever so inclined ! And similarly, the nurturance that you mention, is within me, and the environment is created by me. The environment IS me. The experiencer is the experienced. The observer is the observed.

    What interests me about blogs is that they are wonderful attempts at trying to make sense of our own inner self. By putting them down, we can unravel and untangle the web of life……its like incarnation of the secrets of the soul.

    Be well.


    • Stephen says:

      Hi M – really like the phrase: “The environment IS me. The experiencer is the experienced. The observer is the observed”
      My only regret is that I cannot control it better.

      • Madhu Sameer says:

        I think that is what we all regret. That we cannot be god. That we cannot be beyond ourselves !

        Reminds me of an interesting incident a few years ago at a meditation retreat. I was a newbie then, newer than I currently am, so greed was me, and my brain must have been dumber than it currently is ! In throes of deep meditation I made a wish, I wanted to know the answers of the universe. Knowing that I was incapable of understanding the unknown and the unknowable, and that if I did, it would be beyond the capacities of my biology.

        I had wanted to be god, if only for a moment…..

    • Karin says:

      Hi Madhu,
      thanks for taking the time to share all this. I agree with all your comments about the ability to find deep fulfillment in most types of organisations and in work itself, and like you I have experienced situations where there is something deeply meaningful at the core of organisations, their values, ways of working.

      I need to clarify why I have written what I have. I’m not sure what the work climate is in the US right now, but in the UK we are on the brink of huge public sector budget cuts which will lead to massive job losses and also major service cuts. Only today you will no doubt have heard of the UK government’s decision to raise tuition fees significantly and the violent protests that have taken place. Also today one of my public sector clients has announced huge cuts of 40%. Many other public sector bodies have already communicated similar scale cuts. It is hard to find or preserve a sense of beauty or meaningfulness in these organisations while this is all happening. The people working in these organisations – many of whom are people I work with, some are friends – are living through a very incoherent time and there is not a lot of support for them; and then of course there are the impending effects on members of society more generally. It is a bleak time. The management of the work I am doing is at times chaotic and incoherent due to all the pressures, distractions and the huge anxieties people are facing.

      I also agree with you about putting relatively minor inconveniences in perspective. But to counterbalance that, I feel that especially when people are experiencing huge anxieties and negative changes, the niceties are even more important and shouldn’t be disregarded as trivial. And the attitude of having to keep a stiff upper lip, which is very British and American, can also be heartless. (I am reminded of your post and our exchanges on the differences between the Eastern culture from early family life, the nurturing environment etc. Perhaps it is painful to have it reflected back that our organisations, in these times of stress, reinforce a sense of separation and self-isolation).

      Like Steve I like those sentences you have written at the end and I am usually quite good at living those I think. Resilience has dipped perhaps though also been strengthened through the HearthMusic concerts, but it will be restored. May write more about this.

      Thank you as ever for your thought-provoking comments. And I do so agree with you about blogs – though it can be quite scary to put it out there/here!

      Hope you are well,

      • Madhu Sameer says:


        We seem to think happiness and good and suffering is bad. When you come to think of it, the terms good and bad are hollow constructs. From the mind’s point of view, one set of chemicals are produced under one situation, and another under another situation. And there is no good chemical or bad chemical, it just is. Each chemical unleased on our brain does some good, and some damage. just like happiness doesn’t last forever, suffering doesn’t last forever either. And the good side is that the the wisdom of the psyche, the growth, the alchemical opus, the philosopher’s stone – is only found in the dirt. Suffering is a rough uncut diamond. If you just look at its roughness, and its outer appearance, you will be disheartened. Why not look beyond – what is the lesson that such a time is teaching us? Empathy, compassion, kindness. The gold is being melted and refined in the furnace. The little fetus is going thru birthing trauma, or the adolescence trauma. All good for the national psyche. Suffering is never wasted. It is the essence of life, because it, and only suffering, leads to growth. These are necessary losses, as Judith Viorst would say.

        As for how it is affecting you personally – I’d bring it all back to myself and ask – what is it about this deprivation that makes me sad? What does it touch? When did I first feel this loss? That internal loss is what is being mourned I think. The external – its just a projection.

        And please feel free to delete this post if it is intrusive.


      • Madhu Sameer says:

        One thing that I forgot to add was that ours is not to wonder. Ours is only to work, to accumulate karma to the best of our ability. The consequences are beyond our control. So why worry? Just do the best with as much dedication as is possible.

  4. Stephen says:

    Well there’s a lot in this one! I spent 17 years teaching primary school children in classrooms that were not always ideal, poor heating and ventilation, limited physical materials and the children themselves were sometimes extremely deprived. Did this ever get me down? Of course it did and in the end it was the reason I left teaching and broke into IT however when I look back over those years I’m confident there were people I affected, helped and maybe even improved and that is enough – what more could I ask for?
    Today we have the worst of times, not least because the media is full of negativity. If we were all to read the Daily Mail no doubt the suicide or emigration figures would go through the roof. So what do I do? I try to be positive, be complimentary when someone does something well, pass on a little positive thinking. I’m not a smiley person but I make the effort. Oh and of course I read the Times not the Daily Mail.
    So Karin you’re a bit down at the moment but you’ll soon be back on an even keel and supporting all those people who rely on your good guidance.
    Apologies if this sounds a bit trite, grandmother suck eggs, but it’s what came to mind.

    • Karin says:

      Hi Steve
      I agree with the practical common sense in your comment, and generally feel in tune with the approach. I think my dip in resilience is the effect of near daily organisational ‘mishaps’ just at the moment. I don’t like it that I now almost expect them to happen. It’s just I remember times when the context for my work was more full of positive energy. It’s hard to keep going with the same vigour without that energy – like a plant without water or nutrients. But that’s where other aspects of life such as yoga and HearthMusic and friends can come in to counterbalance – and blogs of course!

      • Madhu Sameer says:


        What I wanted to empasize was that we have this striving to remain happy. When I feel sad, I am told – go out, watch a movie, distract yourself. But thats not what I am feeling, so why am I being forced to do something that is not natural. What I do instead is grieve, and in that grieving turn inwards and introspect. And learn. The psyche has a purpose in inflicting that grieving on me. By avoiding it, the purpose is lost.

        Neutrality is what I strive for. Neutrality is the place of balance. The zero point.

        Its ok. You can call me weird…


    • Madhu Sameer says:


      Very thoughtful post, and profound too. One simple observation that I have is that the one disservice you do to yourself is by forcing yourself to stay positive. To me, that seems unauthentic. What that means is that you are figting the instincts, you are fighting against nature, you are swimming upstream – very exhausting, for its simpler to mourn when its time to mourn, and its simpler to laugh when it is time to laugh.

      Mourning is an essential part of the grieving process, it shapes the psychological structures that need to be realigned as a consequence of the loss that is being experienced. All those accumulated unmourned losses – the goal of therapy is to create a place so our clients can mourn them. The universe demands that we heed and pay respect to its cycles, that we be happy when its time to be happy, and we be sad when its time to be sad. Any avoidance leaves residues that become unfinished business and prevent learning, for the cycles have their own lessons to impart.

      The western world has this abhorrence towards embracing suffering as a part of life. That avoidance doesn’t reduce suffering in any way. It just makes it entrenched in the psyche. By remaining positive the trauma doesn’t go away, it goes deep into repression, into the recesses of the unconscious mind. And it accumulates – with interest. By expressing, it is eliminated from the body, and the psyche.

      Did you know in the Eastern countries there is no such thing as Post Natal Depression, not the Seasonal Depression that is such a given in the Western world? Childbirth, and rains bring untold happiness. I often wonder if it is because our mourning process is more expressive. We let it all out, and how ! So the rains and the pregnancy doesn’t entice us to finish that business of mourning…

      Interesting differences….no?

      • Karin says:

        I don’t know what Steve will make of your comments Madhu, but I find them very interesting. I agree with what you say about suffering and fitting in to the cycle – it is hard to say this to someone when they are suffering though! I also feel I’m learning a vast amount about the Eastern psyche through our various exchanges, which is enhancing my yoga studies and practice. Many thanks.

      • Stephen says:

        Hi Madhu – you’re so right, however after a lifetime of taking a stoic approach to life it might be very difficult to change, assuming of course that I wanted to. Perhaps being stoical suits me, makes me happy. When I look around at the situations a lot of people find themselves in, I feel guilty if I get depressed (and I do) therefore my approach is to aim to be positive and suppress, as much as I can, any negativity.
        Although this has become focussed on personal issues I was referring to the trend in the UK to put ourselves down as a nation. We also have a national tendency to knock success as though it is something to be ashamed of. This starts at an early age with a variety of names given to those who excel in school – the school swot, for example.
        Thanks for your comments. I shall continue to suffer in silence – the last sentence was written tongue in cheek 😉

      • Karin says:

        Madhu, is your neutrality non-attachment – a fine combination of detachment and compassion, as in Buddhism? I agree with your observations about this striving for happiness and the social unacceptability of unhappiness – this, I think, links with the other dialogue we had about people needing to pamper themselves.

      • Karin says:

        Steve, I certainly recognise what you say about the English character, the frequent lack of self-esteem and ability to be assertive, which converts into a passive-aggressive style in some cases. Have you heard of Tall Poppy Syndrome – a phrase used in the UK, Australia and New Zealand to describe ‘a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticised because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers.’ (Wikipedia) An American friend introduced it to me, I’ve never heard anyone use it over here though I’m told Ricky Gervais introduced it in the US.

      • Madhu Sameer says:

        @Steve, I did not ask you to be depressed !!! I asked that the emotion be let out. Like a dark cloud it falls as rain, so you can get rid of it and allow much rainbow and sunshine. Of course I understand the personality and cultural influences. But it is my guess that this converstion has been registered by your unconscious now ! As for guilt, I believe guilt is the reward we pay to ourselves to equalize the psychic counterbalances. Its a useless emotion….Think about this one… 🙂

        @Karin, Yes, the equanimity. These are strivings, so one is never able to perfect the attainment, but we all try in our own ways….

  5. Karin says:


    your post isn’t intrusive. You always bring a different perspective. Your questions about both the global/national psyche and personal psyche are ones that I often ask in my own language and way.

    The reason this post was a bit of an ‘indulgence’ or risk for me, was I just felt like writing how I felt rather than reflecting.

    I understand your point about just doing the best one can and not worrying – but context requires acknowledgement. It’s important to be connected without getting engulfed. I fully accept this post may sound like I’m engulfed! Sometimes I am – but not all the time. Does that not happen to all of us?

    It was/is a moment.


    • Madhu Sameer says:

      Hi Karin.

      You’re allowed to be engulfed. Unless you are engulfed how can you experience? Mine wasn’t preaching, mine was pulling you out of that engulfment and making you the observer, the experiencer once again….

      We all go thru that back and forth.


  6. Chris says:

    I’m late into this post as I’ve been away and am uptight with technology problems so originally posted my reply against the wrong one. But what a fascinating post this one is – and what a wonderful set of replies to date. Perhaps for me the key response has been from Madhu – telling Karin not to beat herself up about this. One hundred per cent correct! And how comforting that when Karin has shown herself to be concerned and a bit down there has been a solid group response to help her through a bad patch.

    I’m not surprised at all if organisations don’t act like individuals. It’s the the group imperative kicking in – the one that causes perfectly reasonable football fans and peaceful protesters to run amok. Sad but true. The individuals who stand out in my mind as I look back over a corporate history are those few who did what they felt was right rather than what they felt was expected of them or would win them ticks in boxes. It’s hard to do that sometimes. I know – been there, done that! Give me individuals or small groups every time.

    • Stephen says:

      Hi Chris – sorry to hear you’ve had technical difficulties. For the second time in 3 months I’ve been without broadband because thieves tried to steal the copper cable between our village and the exchange.
      The power of socialisation is incredible, sometimes for good but really dangerous in the wrong hands. Nazi Germany was a country of human beings with the same strengths and weaknesses as the rest of us, and look what happened there. In organisations it can be exceedingly difficult to do the right thing by swimming against the current because one’s livelihood depends on going with the company conventions. I know this is stating the bleeding obvious but it’s something easily overlooked at times like this when jobs are in short supply – people get desparate.

      • Karin says:

        Steve, what you say about organisational behaviour is very true. Only today I was having a conversation with someone who said she would never say what she was saying to me in a team session because it would cost her her job – and believe me, what she was saying was pretty unexciting. These feelings are likely to increase in current times. But then people can hide behind the threats of the current times when really there is a fundamental laziness and/or lack of courage behind these choices. More than ever it’s important to speak out and not let a new lower standard of human behaviour become the norm.
        It was interesting that the team session I was debriefing in this conversation today was about the shadow the leaders cast on their organisational culture; ironically the leaders’ shadow remained in the shadow even when it was being discussed since no one either had the insight or the courage to talk about what was really there despite prompting from me.

      • Chris says:


        As usual your words fit my thinking.

        The technical difficulties were caused by a large organisation, because my home and its requirements don’t fit their preferred routine corporate solution and no-one wants to stray from the script. I’ve now sent for a one-man business I’ve used before to good effect to sort it all out. Just proves our points.

  7. Dody Jane says:

    Karen – great post – coming at a time when I am so fractured by work and so stressed by it’s demands, it has taken me this long to even open up the computer and read!

    I belong to a writing group and sometimes the thought of having to put something together, get in my car and drive thirty minutes down the interstate in the cold at night makes me want to withdraw from the group. But, when I get there and engage, I leave each time feeling buoyed with the camaraderie and the insights given and the fun little desserts we eat afterwards.

    Sometimes, in our crazy lives ( and your description of your work, even though my job is very different, the stresses all sounded the same) doing the fun things seems like even more work. Yet, it always feels so good after we have had the experience.

    If you think about fairy tales, they are pretty stressful. My two personal favorites, The Little Mermaid (NOT the Disney version) and the Wild Swans, are so full of stress and human suffering it is almost hard to stomach. Yet, they are ‘fairy tales’ and they show that in the end, the effort will reward you. In particular, The Wild Swans teaches that even the most intense race against time to improve a bad situation can’t be perfect. One of the brothers must live the remainder of his life with his one arm as a wing because the princess was not able to complete the nettle sweater that would transform her brother back into a human. So, I guess, all the aggravation that went along with your musical venture was an integral part of what I perceived as a fairy tale. And it did result in a happy ending!

    We all have to work hard at our fairy tales. It is a misconception that they are all peaches and cream. In some sense, the example of the poor gentleman who died on the edge of the woods could become a fairy tale … if you apply the tenants of religion to his death, it has all the components of a fairytale – the dark woods, the cold, the night – I can only hope he did not suffer – I hope what they relate about freezing to death was true in this sad case.

    I guess I am saying that I probably incorrectly identified your doings as a ‘fairy tale’ by attributing the flip, quick definition to the term. However, in the end, it may have been a fairy tale after all, involving the human angst and effort and eventual joy that comes at the end.

    • Karin says:

      Hello Dody Jane,

      I think I’ve been unconsciously awaiting your response to this post to move beyond – just to round off the fact that your comment triggered it partly in the first place.

      What you say chimes with Jung’s views of fairy tales. Fairy tales can be experienced as a process of individuation, where the shadow or dark side needs to be acknowledged, accepted, even welcomed for the person to become more integrated or whole. It is the dark side of fairy tales which makes them so powerful.

      I can now make sense of some aspects of the HearthMusic Thanksgiving experience which have been unsettling me. The experience both had huge heights in it for me, and a real sense of rediscovering what really fires me up, but also some significant downs and dark sides where I’ve had to look hard at myself. If I look at the ongoing story of HearthMusic Thanksgiving as a fairytale with an afterlife, I can find a lot more meaning in it. Not sure if any of this will make sense to you – but it does to me!

      I also found it very interesting that you read the story of the man who froze to death as a fairytale, I hadn’t thought of that at first, but now I can frame it this way too; and I feel it is also important for the writer and this blog. (Now that is obscure – and deliberately so!)

      On a more mundane note, I know what you mean about the importance of making the effort to do the fun things and lift yourself out of the routine, especially the routine of work. I just hope that I am not snowed in and prevented from doing the fun things that beckon tomorrow!


  8. J’ai appris des choses interessantes grace a vous, et vous m’avez aide a resoudre un probleme, merci.

    – Daniel

  9. What’s up, just wanted to mention, I liked this post. It was helpful. Keep on posting!

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