The Tallest Blade of Grass is the First to be Cut by the Lawnmower

(Thanks to B for inspiring this blog. Also, as an aside, if you love the Tallest Blade expression, I recommend getting the demotivational poster from…which is a spin on the Russian proverb of the tallest blade being the first to succumb to the scythe. Also, if you’d rather watch me rant about this blog instead of reading it or in addition to reading, you can see it here.)





So true.

This blog is dedicated to the early adopters…to the brave who step out from the status quo…to the ones that try instead of staying on the sidelines and critiquing…to the organizations that stepped out from the pack only to be cut down by other organizations…to the great ideas for social change squelched by misinformed elected representatives.

If you have anything worth doing, chances are you have naysayers. I have seen it so often over the past decade of my life that I come to expect that when naysayers show up it is a sign the right thing is happening.

Maybe people try to cut the Tallest Blade out of fear. Go out on a limb and you attract attention to the mediocrity of others. Others will wonder why they aren’t capable of doing more.

Maybe people try to cut the Tallest Blade out of empathy. Perhaps they once tried to reach out in a new direction and felt the pain of being non-conformity by being ridiculed by others and now try to shield others from the same pain.

Maybe people try to cut the Tallest Blade out of jealousy. They always wished they could have done it. They just didn’t have the guts.

If ever you step out of the norm expect someone to tell you it can’t be done (at least not done where you live) or that it isn’t worth doing (takes too much work, requires too many resources, will be too long of a change process, it’s a great idea just not worth doing now or not worth doing at the expense of upsetting others, etc.).

Also, don’t necessarily expect people to haul out the lawnmower right away. It will build to a crescendo and likely follow these steps:


  1. Usually if you create an idea or action worthy of naysayers it actually starts with wild enthusiasm. (“Awesome, let’s end homelessness!”)
  2.  This will be followed by bubble bursting. (“That was an unrealistic idea, and besides that so called evidence people talked about proving it can be done, well, have you heard about that one paper that talked about how all of that evidence was maybe not the way some people said it was?”)
  3.  Once bubbles are popped, expect turmoil. (“We started changing our programs around but now we don’t know what to do!” And all the homeless people are confused. Is that what we want?”)
  4.  Turmoil will give way to panic because instead of seeking information or counsel on how to fix what is going on, people will turn their attention on needing someone to blame. (“This program is totally not working! We’re person-centered and all this change stuff doesn’t let us serve people the way we always have.”)
  5.  Panic will stir up a witch-hunt – and the “witches” may well all leave town. (“See, now all the people that started this are dropping like flies!”)
  6.  The innocent people (the Tallest Blades) who decided to grow in the first place will be ostracized or punished – sometimes professionally and sometimes personally. (“I always thought she was a pushy b!tch anyways, so I am kinda glad she’s gone so things can get back to normal.”)
  7.  Non-participants and naysayers (the short to medium sized blades of grass) will be promoted to positions of prominence or celebrate that they out-lasted the Tall Blades. (“It’s a fad we see every few years…a new idea comes along, but then people see it is a bad idea, and we can go back about our business. Someday people will realize that we have been right all along. We must be doing something right if we’re the only ones that always seem to be around while others come and go.”)


The Tallest Blade phenomenon has no shortage of situations in the pursuit of increasing housing options or ending homelessness or addressing any complex social justice issue. When elected officials lament the lack of affordable housing but go on to suggest it has to be in some different neighborhood/community and be paid for by some other unseen taxpayer or private money, I fear for the Tallest Blades trying to create housing options anyway. When people who have never operated a Housing First program or never read a peer reviewed piece of research on it say it never works I fear for the Tallest Blade in the community trying to implement Housing First with fidelity to practice. When people say that Permanent Supportive Housing is too destructive to community at large and just creates the wild west, they are cutting down the Tallest Blade doing all they can to make it work it their community rather that working with them to make it work better. When people who know nothing about adult learning and the failures of deterrents and coercion try to force people to change her/his behavior to conform to the expectation of a service rather than adjusting the service for the person, I fear for the Tallest Blade. And so on.

So here’s to you, Tall Blades. I will water and fertilize you whenever you want. I will distract and make dull the lawnmower as best as I can. Stand proud, Tall Blades, for you are the gorgeous reason for us to keep doing this work and inspire the rest of us to grow up tall with you. Besides, if you stay tall and proud it’s entirely possible the rest of the blades will finally catch up to your height of excellence, forget they themselves were once smaller blades, and tell anyone that the grass has always been this long.

About Iain De Jong

Leader. Edutainer. Coach. Consultant. Professor. Researcher. Blogger. Do-gooder. Potty mouth. Positive disruptor. Relentless advocate for social justice. Comedian. Dad. Minimalist. Recovering musician. Canadian citizen. International jetsetter. Living life in jeans and a t-shirt. Trying really hard to end homelessness in developed countries around the world, expand harm reduction practices, make housing happen, and reform the justice system. Driven by change, fuelled by passion. Winner of a shit ton of prestigious awards, none of which matter unless change happens in how we think about vulnerability, marginality, and inclusion.

Be the first to comment on this article

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.