--Art by Rick Nilson, airbrush on canvas, 2014
Sometimes it helps to use metaphors to describe situations we are living in to better understand the ideas and mindsets in action.
Fishermen rarely bother to cover the bucket they collect crabs in. They know from experience if there are several crabs in a bucket, and one tries to climb out, the others will pull him back down. The “crab bucket mentality” is often summed up as:
“If I can’t climb up, neither can you.”
If the crabs worked together, they could escape from the bucket. If the other crabs did not actively hinder the climbing crab, it might succeed. Instead, their instinctive reaction is to maintain things as they are--all the crabs stay in the bucket, where they will eventually end up being served up as a meal.
The analogy in human behavior is that members of a group will attempt to “pull down” (negate or diminish the importance of) any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of envy, conspiracy or competitive feelings.
This term is broadly associated with short-sighted, individual, static (unchanging) thinking rather than a long-term, collaborative, constructive (growth) mentality. It is also often used colloquially in reference to individuals or communities attempting to improve their socio-economic situation, but kept from doing so by others who resent or distrust change.
k-os, "Crabbuckit," Joyful Revolution album, 2004.
Kevin Brereton, Trinidadian-Canadian musician.
Let’s say the bucket is your circle of friends, and you want to try something new. Do your friends encourage that venture, or do they try and pull you back down?
What’s your instinctive reaction when one of your friends takes a risk and is genuinely happy and successful?
We can be better than the crabs. Smarter. More cooperative. More encouraging.
If you want to climb out of your “bucket,” whatever it may be, don’t let the crabs pull you down.
If you see someone else making a break for it, give them a boost!
They may turn around once they are out and offer a helping claw.
--Art by Gail Danos, pastel on watercolor paper, 2009
Website Updated: 27 September 2019