Thinking Outside the Bucket

By DeeMeyer


The irrational act of pulling down someone perceived to be successful is a universal syndrome.  This human behavior is often ascribed to human nature and called jealousy or envy.  I heard the analogy of crabs in a bucket in many conversations among Filipinos. They use the term “crab mentality” to describe the behavior of fellow Filipinos who tear down other people’s achievement.  I used to think that “crab mentality” was a native Filipino metaphor so I was surprised when I heard an American rapper using the “crabs in a bucket” allegory.

In my search of the etiology of “crab mentality,” I found that it comes in different guises: ” crabs in a bucket,” “crabs in a basket,” or “crabs in a barrel.” The crabs are constant but the receptacle could differ, and it is always a container that implies confinement.  The idiomatic expression came from the observable fact that when a crab is placed in a vessel by itself, it has no problem escaping from it within minutes. To the contrary, when two or more crabs are placed in the same container, other crabs will try to pull down ones that are trying to get out, making it nearly impossible for even one crab to escape from captivity.

Wikipedia explains the “crabs in a bucket mentality” with the phrase, “ if I can’t have it, neither can you.”  Instead of being happy about someone’s success, crabs get crabby.  It is a negative trait where bitterness or resentment overwhelms good judgment. Some people will stop at nothing to keep someone from achieving his dream.

In a larger context, the Philippines could be seen as a container and its people as the crabs.  The crab mentality is debilitating.  Progress is impeded.  Reforms are met with resistance.  Saviors are crucified.  Intelligence is silenced.  Change agents are ridiculed.  Negativity reigns. Self-serving behaviors abound.

Everybody knows that crabs in a container are bound to meet their doom in a boiling pot of water.  If the prevalence and persistence of crab mentality in the Philippines is not mitigated, Filipinos are bound to meet their miserable fate sooner than later. Some may say that they are already in a simmering pot.

So, what do we do with a problem like crab mentality?

Awareness is needed.  Filipinos need to be aware that the Philippines as a nation has not reached its potential and we, individually and collectively, are part of the problem.  The dream of a prosperous country can only happen if individuals do something positive towards achieving the goal or band together with like-minded people to make a difference.  We can be part of the solution instead of confounding the problem.

To get out of the bucket, think outside the bucket.

As in the crabs in the bucket analogy, instead of pulling down those who are trying to change the status quo, assist them.  Push them over the edge to their freedom and dreams. Talk less.  Listen more. Join the call for progressive reforms.  Support honest and decent public officials. Refuse to pay bribes.  Do not ask for favors. Report wrongdoings.  Praise those who deserve it.  If you can afford it, send a deserving youth to college.  Pay it forward. Practice random acts of kindness. Refrain from gossips and destructive criticisms. Be resourceful and self-reliant. Be proactive.  Be a problem solver.  Be a role model.  As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “BE THE CHANGE YOU WISH TO SEE IN THE WORLD.”


Finally, cheer for the ones who made it.  Chances are, one may come back with ladders and ropes to get others out of the bucket or even from the pot.

79 Responses to “Thinking Outside the Bucket”
  1. Geng says:

    That is my dream of a prosperous country, where every citizen is thinking of the betterment of the whole and where fairness is the unseen rule or our daily existence.
    We should be part of the solution instead of being the problem.
    Why do most of us find it hard to be a good citizen of the country? Is it because of the reasons the writer enumerated above or our overbearing attitude that we are always much better than our fellow countrymen even if we know in our hearts that we possess only an average mind who could only move forward because of influence and favors we so grudgingly curry to advance to our dreams, even if we are aware that we stepped on too many heads just to get to the top?

    • Dee says:

      What comes to mind is the question about why do Filipinos could behave in foreign countries but not in the Philippines? My guess is: peer pressure. As with the lone crab that figured to scale the bucket, when Filipinos are not around other Filipinos, they adapt to their environment. In group, I think they do not want to go against the grain so they do what they think is expected of them. This brings your point about currying favors. One could not do that if he offends those he wants favor from.

    • Dee says:

      Did you see the Manila Standard (I think it was dated 2/4/2014) article I cut and pasted on the Aquino forum? It is about what was done with the 2011 informal settlers you were concerned about. It is an article reporting about the Informal Setters Fund (ISF).

      • Geng says:

        The news about the resettlement plans was good but I still have to see if my suggestion that each family would be granted a piece of land to plant fruit trees and other high value crops was implemented. Anyway, that was a good start.
        Thanks for the info!
        I was disillusioned about the news that came from the DILG secretary that they built tenement-like buildings for those ISF families in Manila. My suggestion was to decongest the metropolis and make the children taste a new peaceful life while enjoying an environment of fresh air and fresh food, a surrounding away from crimes and bad influences. We all know that those slum areas are fertile breeding grounds for drug pushers and all kinds of criminal activities.
        And for the permanent residents of the city to see the city sidewalks being used by people and the traffic jams do not occur on almost any hour of the day and criminality of all sorts would be a thing of the past.

        • Dee says:

          I read about a city decongestion plan the Japanese were studying for Metro Manila. I’ll try to find it and see if it was finished and implemented.

          It says each families were given P290,000 and some livelihood assistance, right? They should had been given a choice of where to relocate. A lot of them came from provinces that may have healthier environments than where they relocated them.

  2. andrew lim says:

    Great article, Dee.

    I hasten to add that those who make frequent negative observations about Philippine culture have never even traveled much outside the country or done serious comparisons with other cultures.

    Factionalism? Filipinos may organize themselves into ethnic groups abroad, but they never reach the level of enmity like the Serbians and Croatians. There are no red states or blue states. No football hooliganism.

    Lousy drivers? Try Egypt or Nigeria. On a recent trip to NYC, the driver was Pakistani. He swung the taxi right into the center of the clogged intersection, resulting in even more clogging. I remarked, ” Just like home!”

    Crab mentality concentrates the attention outwards, putting the blame on others for their personal miseries. It never leads to a solution.

    The converse is what leads to improvement- look inwards, and work from there.

    • Joe America says:

      I’m reminded of the time in New York when my cab driver drove up onto the SIDEWALK to get around a jam. I thought I was in the movies. Indeed, in many respects, the Philippines is more wholesome and stable than other lands. Now, if each person took satisfaction as his main personal attitude, rather than envy, I think criticism would generally be much more constructive. And TAKEN as constructive, rather than as a threat.

    • Dee says:

      Thank you, Andrew.

      Yes, all cultures have flaws. Close encounter with other cultures through travel always enlighten the traveller.

      Personal awareness and accountability are needed for introspection. One could not understand others without understanding themselves first. Covey said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

  3. edgar lores says:

    Part 1 – Initial Observations

    1. Wise words.

    2. I find it fascinating that 5 of the 6 references on Crab Mentality in Wikipedia are linked to Filipino articles.
    2.1. In a cross-cultural comparison, the Aussie equivalent of the metaphor is the Tall Poppy Syndrome. Of the 11 references in Wiki, five (5) are Australian-related.

    3. If we study the metaphors side-by-side, one can see significant differences.
    3.1. The first obvious difference is in the object of the metaphor. The Filipino metaphor uses an aquatic animal whereas the Aussie uses a plant.
    3.1.1. I don’t think this implies that Aussies are vegetarians and that Filipinos are carnivores or “meatatarians”.
    3.1.2. It might imply though that Filipinos love their food. Chilli Crab is a foretaste of heaven.
    3.1.3. It might imply too that the Aussie path to heaven is not through the stomach but through pain-relief and mind-altering drugs. Poppies are a source of morphine and codeine.
    3.1.4. The preliminary conclusion is that Filipinos are sensate while Aussies are cerebral.

    3.2. The second difference is that one is a “mentality” while the other is a “syndrome”. Mentality is a derogatory reference limited to a characteristic way of thinking, whereas syndrome refers to a wider pathological condition that encompasses both physical and mental characteristics, such as the Down Syndrome.
    3.2.1. That mentality refers to the mind might seem to contradict the preliminary conclusion stated at 3.1.4. In fact, it doesn’t; it reinforces it. It means that Filipinos are non-cerebral.
    3.2.2. The good news is that this means that Crab Mentality is curable.
    3.2.3. The bad news, of course, is that we have it.

    3.3. The third and final difference is that while both metaphors are emblematic of the sixth deadly sin that is envy, there is a variation in the timing of the sin’s application.
    3.3.1. Crab mentality is envy before the fact of success. Tall Poppy Syndrome is envy after the fact.
    3.3.2. The first is active and aggressive jealousy, the second is passive-aggressive jealousy.
    3.3.3. The first attempts to prevent success, the second to tear down success.

    4. The Green-Eyed Monster arises from the nature of the Mind to make comparisons. Sages say we should never compare because there will always be ones lesser than us or greater than us. But we will always compare if we see Others as separate. Again, the trick is in the perception of Self.

    • Dee says:

      You are funny, Edgar.

      Great points. The Aussie and Filipino comparison is informative as well as entertaining. I particularly love the good news, bad news on 3.2.2 and 3.2.3.

      I will argue the conclusion that Aussies are cerebral while Filipinos are not, but a Gallup poll just found that Filipinos are the most emotional people in the world. Now, I am off to find out the reason why Filipinos are emo.

    • Joe America says:

      That closing line is a whack upside the head, startling for the simplicity of conclusion after the exhaustive prior analysis. I suppose the American counterpart is “keeping up with the Joneses”, which is rather a mental/emotional state motivated by either fear of being left behind, or gloating about being ahead.

      • edgar lores says:

        That’s significant and different as well. The American version is not to bring others down but to raise one’s self up.

        • Dee says:

          Hmmm. Don’t people tear others down to raise themselves up? I see a scale, and by taking something out from the OTHER’s side, the scale tips in favor of SELF.

          • edgar lores says:

            That’s true of the Filipino and Aussie versions. It just strikes me that the American version says “keeping up” which usually means buying things that the Jones have or buying better things. The idiom might have taken another turn with the TV show “Keeping up with the Kardashians” which is about being famous for being famous. I am sure we have our own Paris Hiltons, but I would not admit – even under extreme torture – to trawling through Filipino entertainment sites to be able to identify who they are.

            • Dee says:

              Hahahaha! OK, I get it.

              Americans are all about equality. We go by “If you can have it, so can I.”

            • randedge says:

              It seems to me as if the Philippine version of Paris Hilton is…

              Still Paris Hilton!

              Didn’t that guy who made a monument to himself in the form a Mansion about “Me” filled with nothing but expensive commissioned art about him, DATE Paris Hilton? Or at least was SEEN with her. Which is her job – to be seen as arm candy or some other thing or another…. I dunno, to be honest, I don’t keep up with these things all that much.

              • Dee says:

                randedge, your post reminded me of the talks of deporting Justin Beiber back to Canada. Can we do a sort of exchange program? We’ll keep Justin Beiber if you take Paris Hilton off our hands 🙂

  4. Truly an excellent article Dee, worth the week’s waiting. A great introspection (the detailed mental examination of our own feelings, thoughts and motives… encarta dictionary)

    One wishes that each and every Filipino recognizes and acknowledges this almost national aberration, doing so can make healing takes place and then positive traits will take over. If we can be each others brother’s or sister’s keeper, a prayer buddy, a true friend in need, instead of in each other’s throat, maybe progress is not far behind. Being a friend also entails looking at each other’s back or trying to steer one another from bad habit or aiding them so he can be freed from being dependent forever even for their daily subsistence while wasting away their time in internet cafes or in their tablets (gift from OFW relatives and friends) and whining about everything.

    From time to time, we as a nation wake up from the stupor and act as one, like in Edsa 1 and 2 revolution to topple a misfit official. After that, we got comfortable and forgot to be nationalistic again so much so that we let succeeding officials (PGMA and the PDAF plunderers) back to their thieving ways again.

    I’m thinking, if those who have the means can each adopt a destitute family at least during the campaign period so that they will not be exposed to politician’s dirty tricks, maybe we can minimize the chances of having corrupt and dynastic families being enthroned again to power.

    • Dee says:

      Thank you, Mary Grace.

      Just like with any other bad habit once you are aware that you are doing it, you can control it. And yes, it would be great if Filipinos bring back the positive and supportive cultural traits like bayanihan. My parents used to have a farm and they never paid for planting and harvesting of crops. They just threw a feast and everyone came and helped.

      Studies found that emotions are drivers of motivation. Good emotions motivates people to do good and vice versa. Are people in the Philippines fearful, angry and sad?

      I think it was just last year when I read about Filipinos being the happiest people in the world. Happy people are suppose to driven to do good things. If that is the case, we should have crab mentality licked in no time.

      That is a great idea. 2016 is around the corner. Let me know if someone is willing to interface with the people. I do not have a problem adopting a family for a good cause.

      • Aye… the bayanihan spirit, we used to have it also in that mountainous region adjacent to Tagaytay City, each family take turns throwing a feast and all the others help cleaning the field (pagamas – pulling out weeds), planting rice and harvesting … somehow it has disappeared from the horizon… I recall telling my aunt (in Batangas), where has it gone… she needs something done in her house… she can have the help from her nephews and nieces only if she pays and feed them right after or (sigh) before the task is done…… sad, so sad

        • Dee says:

          Sigh. Those were the days, my friend. We thought they’ll never end…

          I was stunned to find out that they lock doors now. We used to keep our doors open so if a neighbor wants to borrow some supplies, he/she does not need to wait for us to get home. It’s like honor system. Is honor also in short supply there now-a-days?

          • Yep, truly in short supply nowadays. So few possess it and practice that system anymore.

            Sometimes lock doors are not enough defense against a determined thief. Those drug lords and extreme poverty are to blame…. The hungry destitute under the influence of drugs forcefully enters private homes, ransacks them and murders elderly and other people, I am beyond being shocked to read and hear about victims stabbed more than 20 times… no sane people will ever do that mindless murders.. God help us all. Let’s pray and do our best, He will do the rest.

  5. Joseph-Ivo says:

    Two related thoughts

    The prisoner’s dilemma. Two prisoners are in pretrial. A prisoner gets his freedom when he gives away the other one who will be condemned and imprisoned for 10 years. If both keep their mouth shut, both will be released within one year, the maximum for pretrial detention. The group optimum is silence, 2 year imprisonment in total. The individual optimum is zero, when you talk and the other keeps his mouth shut. In all test the most likely outcome is 20 years, both talk. In stressful situation individual survival is the guiding motive. People are like the crabs. Envy and jealousy ore from a different order.

    The social thermostat. People in a group want the group to stay strong and intact. The group survived by settling for a certain comfort level (the analogy with temperature). They will pull down members trying for higher comfort level, the will pull up members who drop to lower levels. The social thermostat works very strongly in the Philippines. The good thing is that “family” members in need will get support, this generates security and a “lightness” of being we foreigners like so much. The bad thing is that it is so difficult to climb on the social ladder because you have to drag the whole family to a higher level too.

    Recognizing a situation is the start of every improvement initiative. As in judo the next question is how to use the opponent’s energy to your advantage rather than try to stop it. How to use “the crab mentality” to get a good president elected?

    • Dee says:

      Thank you for the great insights.

      Yes, culture plays a great role in motivation.

      The social thermostat just explained the root of Filipino political dynasties. They pull up members to the higher comfort level by helping them get elected. The Binay family is a great example.

      About using the crab mentality to get a good president elected, I guess we’ll have that as an exercise when Joe brings out the article about possible presidential candidates on Friday 🙂

      BTW, Nancy Binay just told PDI reporters that her father’s 2016 running mate will probably be Jinggoy Estrada.

      • Joseph-Ivo says:

        And OJT Nancy told that leaving a party is like an annulment. Not simple divorce, but lying to become a divorce. Or was her father never really part of the party, cheating on his party members all the time?

  6. edgar lores says:

    Part 2 – Application

    1. I thought it might be instructive to look at a few examples of both the Crab Mentality (CM) and Tall Poppy Syndrome (TPS). I shall combine them as one, CM/TPS.

    2. Before we go on, some words of caution. The least potent of the weapons of envy are words. Yes, I know, the pen is often mightier than the sword, but words are impotent in the sense of the nursery rhyme: “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never harm me.”
    2.1. We use words to criticize in various forms to bring down people.
    2.2. But not all criticisms can be classified as CM/TPS. Some criticisms are valid, in particular when either an objective framework or objective criteria are used.

    3. Social media is replete with CM/TPS criticisms.

    3.1. I would hold that the criticisms of Nancy Binay as a senatorial candidate were valid. She did not have the education, the skills, and the nous to be a senator, and she was not even intelligent enough to know that she was not intelligent enough to be a senator of the Republic.

    3.2. On the other hand, the appointment by the President of police general Lina Sarmiento as Chair of the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board was criticized by Joker Arroyo on the partial basis that an “appointment of a general from the uniformed services… is a stinging repudiation of our 15 years of struggle for freedom and democracy.”

    3.2.1. The criticism is founded on the widely held perception that policemen/women are violators of human rights. This is incorrect. One of the primary duties of the police is to safeguard and protect human rights against violators and criminals of all kinds.

    3.2.2. I do not know whether the vicious criticisms exchanged in the senate – especially between Enrile and Santiago – are CM/TPS or whether they border on truth. But Wiki says the criticisms may be valid or not.

    4. Beyond words, the most potent tool of CM/TPS would range from character assassination via audio/video media to killing and murder, which is the literal meaning of “pulling down” or “bringing down”.
    4.1. Strangely audio/video media exposures have sometimes had an opposite effect of enhancing reputation instead of smearing it.

    5. History is replete with mind-curdling examples of CM/TPS killings to prevent the ascendancy of the victims.
    5.1. The execution of Bonifacio by a court constituted of Aguinaldo’s men.
    5.2. The murder of political enemies as exemplified by the Nalundasan case and the Ampatuan massacre.
    5.3. The assassination of Ninoy.

    6. Frankly, I do not think that crabs go to the lengths that Filipinos do. On behalf of the society, I extend my deepest apologies to Mr. and Mrs. Crabs and all their children and kin.

    • Dee says:

      Yes, there are destructive and constructive criticisms. I think a valid criticism is a fact, as opposed to fantasy.

      I think 4.1 will fall in the realm of recognition. Name recognition works during election so I guess visual recognition associated with the name would have the same effect.

      After reading all your examples of CM/TPS, I felt sorry for the crabs too.

    • Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

      PDAF and Ampatuan will have a special court according to Inquirer. According to deLima Ampatuan’s case is still slow going because “… despite its exclusive mandate to work on the Ampatuan massacre, the special court is still hobbled by inordinate delays, the lack of witnesses (some 88 suspects are still at large)…” – Inquirer Editorial

      In the Philippines the thicker the affidavits the guiltier the accused.

      The Filipinos could be the intelligentist people on planet earth and the Americans are the dumbest. I just read a news from KTLA in Los Angeles where LA Police found a body and they cannot determine the gender if it is a woman or a man. OMG!!!! Either they are doing investigations correctly or they are just plain stupid.

      The news in America are cliffhangers. I cannot know the gender. The age. The identity. Weapons of crime. Time of crime. Etcetera but in the Philippines it is a fiesta of information that makes me alive.

      That is why for entertainment and conspiracy I just love Dal-dal Media.

  7. Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

    Crab Mentality Works !!! In a way, yes! It works well in the Philippines where investigation is antiquated and have poor scientific criminal investigation. “poor” is overstated. Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie is unheard of moreso John Grisham for matters of law. Nancy Drew and Hardy boys for rookie detectives.

    In the absence above are replaced with Affidavits of Witness Accounts as long as it is notarized, dry sealed and signed-off by a lawyer-notary public for Php500.00 per affidavits whose parents spent over Php250,000.00 pesos to sign-off on measly affidavits. That goes to show that Affidavit-making is a cottage industry in the Philippines. Who’d want to spend Php250k to sign Php500.00 per affidavits? There has got to be a lot of Affidavits to go around to be dry-sealed and notarized. They are making money just by notarizing affidavits.

    In the U.S. a high school graduate can go for notary class in 3 months they can beat U.P. law graduate in notarizing Affidavits. If anyone cared to go to Philippine consulates all around the U.S. what you will find are cottage industries of NOTARIAL SERVICES, TYPING SERVICES on top of Consulates Authentication services.

    Why Crab Mentality Works in the Philippines:
    1. BenHur got shortchanged, so he used Crab Principle on Janet; It works !
    2. Bong Sexy charged in PDAF also use Crab Principle on Benigno. It nearly worked, but the Dal-Dal Media appears to be covering it up;
    3. Ruby got caught with her hands in the cookie jar, she went crabbing for Tanda Johnny and Bong Sexy. It works! And she’s now a rockstar.

    See? All of the above do not require science. Someone just accuse anyone and that anyone will crab anyone along the way. Pure and Simple and the light at the end of the tunnel are the affidavit typists and notarial services.

    Crab + jealousy + eng-get = PANG-DAMAY. Pang-damay is a sub-specie of crab.

    There are two specie of crabs: 1. Crabs that pull down successes, and; 2) Crabs that pull down their very own criminals are called a RAT.

    So, crabbing works both ways. If only RATs multiply to rid PHilippines of criminals. I do not know what to do with other eng-get crabs. I do not have a solution.

    On the other hand RATs are being pampered, massaged and groomed. They are free and the money they stole are theirs to keep and also the RATs are bestowed Medal of Honor for Bravery and Courageous Acts Beyond the Call of Duty. They are now called deLima’s The Rat Patrol.

    • Let us monitor if Ruby makes good on her pledge to return her 40 million ill-gotten commission, if she does, this is one rat who does not get to keep the money she “stole”. And affidavits are good evidences, if they are first hand accounts, “there-on-the-scene-kind-of-witnessing-affidavits. Together with the money trails to be provided by the AMLAC, and all the rest of the proofs, the probability of nailing the main crooks is great, ha Mariano. Don’t despair yet, lets keep the pressure on..for us and the future generation’s benefit.

    • Dee says:

      Mariano, your knowledge of recent controversies is mind boggling. I appreciate your input and I am amazed by your crab mentality extrapolation with current events.

  8. R. Hiro Vaswani says:

    In general, Filipinos have not grown to the point of having belief systems on political systems. Politics remains personality based and thus it becomes solely a morality play.

    Government here is a means to advance economically since it is the maker of the rules of the game. The Cojuangco clan have prospered from this system. The President is no doubt clean and being the son of the man who stood up to the dictator when no one did no doubt enhances his standing. Most of the Cojuangco clan supported the dictator for protection of their economic interests.

    Someone once wrote that the Philippines is an anarchy of families. Not crabs.
    Abstract concepts are hard to fathom by most here.

    • Joseph-Ivo says:

      A must read for everybody who wants to understand Philippine politics indeed:

      “An Anarchy of Families” edited by Alfred W.McCoy, Ateneo de Manila Press, 1994
      Sixth printing 2010
      ISBN 971-550-128-1

    • Dee says:

      Thank you, Hiro for a brief but wise post.

      I want to learn more about the political system over there. Do you know at what point of the Philippines’ political history that the anarchy of families started?

      • R.Hiro says:

        From the bastion of Marxist, socialist thought in the U.S.- Columbia university – Shiela Coronel of the PCIJ WHO IS Director of Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism. She also has masters in political sociology degree from another bastion of communism, the London School of Economics. Read up on her work:

        “The Rulemakers: how the wealthy and well born dominate Congress”

        “Pork and other Perks:Corruption and Governance in the Philippines”

        plus Walden Bello’s “The Anti Development State: The Political Economy of Permanent Crisis in the Philippines.”

        Philippine society has evolved slowly but still is a neo-feudal society. Families rule….

        Example BPI WAS ORIGINALLY “El Banco Espanol-Filipino de Isabel II

        When the Americans arrived as part of their pacification campaign the landed and owners of commerce were recruited to form the first Philippine Assembly.

        Sometime in the early part of the 20th century the Americans passed the Payne-Aldrich tariff act. It granted free trade for the Philippines. It institutionalized the extractive nature of the Philippine economy. Naturally this benefited the landed and commercial classes.

        Resource extraction for export and import of finished goods.

        Nelson Aldrich was one of the founding members of the U.S. Federal Reserve System and father in law of John D. Rockefeller II.

        Exxon then was the world’s largest refiner of crude oil. Chase Manhattan bank today JP Morgan Chase is one of the planets largest private banks.

        • Joe America says:

          I don’t have a problem agreeing that the Philippines is ruled by families, and off to the side, very rich business men. And it is easy to look about and see all the self-serving practices that hold the masses in place, powerless. On the other hand, there is no question that capitalism generates wealth like no other social machine, as it generates powerful people and companies. That wealth is needed, but is now very poorly distributed, in part because it is perceived that bosses are worth a lot and workers, not much.

          Yet, revolution does what revolution does. It tears down institutions and installs a whole new set of privileged people to do the rebuilding. And so a new set of families emerges. Call them the Castros. After all, the NPA is not exactly a compassionate organization. As rulers, they would not turn compassionate, but would use those same tried and true tools of favor and power.

          So the essential question becomes how to move from now to better, and I’ve concluded it is best to morph than destroy, and it is best not to believe slogans and diatribe of those who promise paradise with no idea how to run it, really.

          It seems to me the well-being of the Philippines rests best in the hands of a growing, connected, intelligent middle class that learns to advocate for change. So the way forward is to empower the middle class. They understand the importance of both opportunity and fairness. That theoretical stuff is great for the classroom, but I’ve never seen a theory that fulfills its promise when it hits the ground.

          • Joseph-Ivo says:

            … the American revolution added something too, I would say, so did the French revolution. Many nations states started with a revolution…

            The families in the Philippines invented a chronicle revolution of killing and outsmarting each other. The resulting alpha-male rules supreme in his province, his offspring starting with an unfair advantage. Ever shifting coalition of alpha-males ruling and plundering the country. It will need a profound change in culture to create a more just society.

            • edgar lores says:

              Most dynasties consist of an alpha male, a beta female, and gamma offsprings. The citizens are relegated to tau (tao). Somewhere in the mix are the paramours, they are the deltas (of Venus).

          • Dee says:

            I also believe that practice trumps theories, but in absence of experiential alternative theoretical stuff is as good as it gets. I would rather read books to give me ideas on how to solve a problem than wringing my hands in despair.

            I read that Sheila Coronel founded the Philippines Center of Investigative Journalism. One of the books Hiro suggested is suppose to be a compilation of a decade (1982-1992) of political history of the Philippines. I am excited to get my copy. I grew up listening to Voice of America. During the Vietnam War era, I worshipped war correspondents so my parents were convinced that I would major in English or Journalism. That did not happen but I still have a soft spot for “in-the-trenches” journos.

            • Joe America says:

              Ahahahaha, I believe ignorance is bliss. 🙂 I suppose I should get back to non-fiction. I got hung up on Ian Rankin and his conflicted Inspector Rebus. Rebus does not know much about the Philippines. I wanted to be a radio newscaster until I discovered as a young adult that the entry jobs were in remote places like Wickenburg, Arizona and paid 65 cents an hour.

        • Dee says:

          Thank you for the references, Hiro.

          I already bought “The Anarchy of Families” by Mc Coy. I will look for the ones you mentioned on Amazon.

  9. ricelander says:

    Hello Joe, how are you?

    I have read it elsewhere that on the contrary, we are misreading the behavior of crabs. Crabs do not pull down one another. They are actually pulling each other up though it could be a great effort for those on the lead that they fall down at first, giving the impression of being pulled down. If you observe long enough you will find that most if not all of them eventually gets out of the barrel.

    • Joe America says:

      Say hey, Ricelander, good of you to check in. I’m good, a little windblown from November, but hale and hearty. I’m sure Dee, who wrote the article, will respond to your observation. For me, I’d say that whereas crabs may get out of the bucket, impoverished laborers do not, and envy is a main interpersonal dynamic in the Philippines. I don’t know about with crabs.

      I trust you are stirring up constructive trouble here and there. 🙂

      • Geng says:

        Since we are on the subject of crabs, I think it is coincidental that the administration is in the process of abolishing government owned and controlled corporations.
        It should have been done a long time ago since those corporations are teeming, er crawling, with crabs of all sizes and colors and are good breeding grounds for corruption.

        • Dee says:

          Yes. I am very happy about that news too. I hope the administration has the time to look at government agencies. I think there are redundant agencies that could be abolished or consolidated. I would love to see all the agencies related to starting a business under one roof! Then maybe they can do other one stop “shops” for all other situations which require a document or an interface with government agencies.

          Streamlining the government will result in costs savings and much needed efficiency.

    • Dee says:

      ricelander, your point of view is greatly appreciated. I love to experiment so I might just go out today and see if my local seafood store got live crabs. Even if the first batch do what you say, it will take a few runs before I can approve or disprove your theory.

    • David Murphy says:

      I grew up on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia and my grandfather sold seafood from the back of his pickup truck, buying it directly from the fishermen and crabbers. I saw a lot of crabs and the “crab mentality” as it applies to the crabs themselves is more of an anthropomorphic misinterpretation than a reality. Crabs are primitive creatures and lack the ability to conceive of pulling down others that are escaping. They don’t really pull each other down; they are stressed and they bite whatever moves, whether it’s a hand or another crab. And it is sufficiently effective that you can fill a bushel basket with crabs right up to the rim and it’s rare that one gets out, especially if the basket is jostled enough to keep the crabs agitated.
      I don’t know that this has any bearing on the “crab mentality” as it applies to humans. Perhaps the basis for the human behavior is some instinct as primitive as that of the crab. I’m inclined to think in terms of jealousy but I don’t know if that and similar emotions are instinctual or learned. But I’m pretty sure that crabs don’t get jealous.

      • Dee says:

        It is all semantics. Filipinos often get confused with concepts, metaphors or anything that is not concrete and literal. I find that weird because they believe in supernatural and metaphysical which are not concrete nor literal. I think this is part of the reason why they get emotional. They are sensitive to perceived slights which can often be attributed to mere cultural misunderstanding or miscommunication.

        Crab mentality is an idiom, a grammatically peculiar grouping of words which meaning can not be deduced from the individual words. It is a figure of speech which has no deep bearing on the whatever subject (crabs, for one) it takes.

        Yes, I do not think crabs have the range of emotions that human possessed. Then again, there might be something new to be learned about human behavior if someone is inclined to look deeper into crustacean’s.

      • edgar lores says:


        Thanks for confirming crabs do not have the Filipino mentality. I have already apologized to these fellow creatures for the slur heaped on them. However, I do not apologize – in fact, the very opposite which is compliment – for inviting these delectable fellows to dinner and feasting, not with them, but upon them. 😉

        I myself had the fortune of spending part of my boyhood by the seashore of a northern Philippine province, and I remember that my Dad was just one of two menfolk who dared catch barehanded sea crabs resting in their burrows.

  10. letlet says:

    Crab mentality is a universal attitude. Julia Roberts, The Pretty Woman actress, was crabbed by her half- sister, Nancy Motes ( who committed suicide). The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, was crabbed by Hilary Mantel, a historical novelist who was launching a book at the time.

    What to do when there are crabs around you trying to pull you down:
    1. Calm down. Letting your emotions get the best of you may only lead to regretful results. Calm down and and think before you act.
    2. Analyze who your real enemy is. Sometimes those crabs are triggered by other crabs. Find out who your real enemy is.
    3. Use your weapons wisely. Build weapons you can against said crabs so you can necessary diplomatic actions.
    4. Take the diplomatic route. Confrontations are not the best tactics when dealing with crabs. Take the diplomatic route and you can even earn the respect of other people.

    • Dee says:

      True. Crab mentality is universal. Any political candidate in the world will experience it in varying intensity.

      Please elaborate on the diplomatic route you mentioned on your dealing with crabs primer. I have two weapons at my disposal and I admit that they are not the most diplomatic: ignore and confront.

      • letlet says:

        Recently, Filipina A, who wanted something from me, has crabbed me in little way to Filipina B. After two days, Filipina B asked me something when we met up that confirmed my hunch. But I spoke to FIlipina A and B in a low tone of voice, not shouty, where I stood firmly on my principles and perspectives. Filipina A and I met half way on the favor she was asking from me. Filipina C, one of their friends, had given me a free whole body massage.

        • Dee says:

          I see what you mean. I guess confrontation has a negative connotation. In Western countries, confrontation usually means face-to-face meeting. A negotiation, which often results in compromise. Same as the scenario you have given. Sure, there’s often anger involved but people often keep a calm and rational exchange of information.

  11. cha says:

    Well said, Dee. I like the approach of proposing an alternative set of behaviors (thinking outside the box) to replace the dysfunctional ones associated with crab mentality. I also appreciate (and enjoyed!) the discussions on related concepts of the tall poppy syndrome of the Australians and keeping up with the Joneses of the Americans. (I might add kiasu of the Singaporeans and schadenfreude of the Germans.) It’s a good reminder that self-esteem issues are not unique to the Filipino people.

    Your mention of Stephen Covey also reminded me of a concept he introduced via the Seven Habits program, that of Abundance Mentality. For those who may not be familiar, Covey coined the term Abundance Mentality to describe a mindset or concept whereby a person believes “there are enough resources and success to share with others” as opposed to a Scarcity Mentality which is the belief that “resources are limited” and one therefore not only has to hoard and protect whatever one already has but also take from others to get ahead. Those with an abundance mentality according to Covey are able to celebrate the success of others instead of being threatened by it while those with scarcity mentality see the success of other people as an indicator of their own failure.

    Maybe, in a country where more people have very little access to resources and opportunities for improving their lot in life, where the great majority are in a constant struggle to simply make ends meet, a scarcity mentality is most likely to take root and abundance mentality will just naturally be hard to come by.

    Maybe this is another way of looking at crab mentality. The behaviours that we have come to associate with crab mentality may actually be coping mechanisms, behaviors that people have adapted (consciously or unconsciously) to deal with the stresses and often, pain brought about by their insecurities about themselves and their future. The coping behaviors are resorted to as a way of finding some psychological comfort amidst one’s misfortunes.

    Coping mechanisms can be positive or negative. Attacking and undermining those seen as threats is negative. Seeking help, learning from how others have succeeded are some positive ways of coping. So maybe another approach to addressing the problem of crab mentality is 1) to help empower those who have less to get more and 2) to teach and show them more productive ways of coping with their personal circumstances.

    • Dee says:

      Thank you, cha.

      Yes. The abundance mentality versus scarcity mentality can explain the crabbiness of some Filipinos. I buy the concept’s premise when applied to the lower classes or even the middle class. What baffles me is why the Filipino upper class also subscribe to the crab mentality? You will think that they have arrived that they should have the abundance mentality. I am afraid that is not the case in the Philippines.

      You hit the nail on the head about empowerment and education of those who feel powerless. The problem is: how do we reach them?

      • cha says:

        Aah, I know what you mean Dee. The rich in the Philippines are often a source of disappointment. I think different motivations come into play at that level. Insatiable greed, hubris, sense of entitlement and so on. I do like the Ayalas though. I think they show more social responsibility and better sense of ethics in how they run their businesses. I’ve never known any employee of theirs to complain of not being properly compensated for the work they put in in any of the Ayala companies. Additionally, I have also heard some positive feedback about the Gokongweis.

        As to how we reach those who are powerless, unfortunately other than those that are already in our own circle of influence (our own relatives and friends) it is really not that easy from where we are. But the good news is that there are people back there who are actually able and willing to take on the task. The likes of Grace and Geng and the others who come to this blog and draw inspiration and get new ideas from JoeAm’s writings and their interactions with other readers here. As you have offered in a previous thread, we can help, support them in any efforts they wish to undertake.

        We can also shine the light on the ones who already contribute positively, those who are involved in constructive efforts to improve the way things are. Maybe Joe can bring back the Society Honor Roll which was a regular feature a year ago (or was that the orevious year?) and expand it to cover not just govt officials and agencies but also private individuals, corporations and real NGOs who do good for this country. There are many role models and heroes out there that Filipinos can look up to and emulate other than their movie idols, reality show winners, basketball stars…..

        • I truly appreciate the in depth discussions being tossed around here, and then I try to share some practical applications…

          I had started out with my still destitute relatives and kasambahays (house helps), a few of my poor friends and office staff (messengers).. I wish to reach out more but I had to concentrate on the elderly relatives in their seventies and nineties who can no longer work to support themselves and who were not able to put up a nest egg (or have no investment to replenish the consumed ones), I wish I have more resources to spread around. I try to stick to the principle of “teaching them (the still able and younger ones) to fish instead of providing the fish” but opportunities for them to earn is scarce, thus my thrust to reach out to my middle class relatives and friends for them to be politically aware so we can elect somebody who will continue what our current president has begun, and of course to regularly put pressure/encouragement to our government so plundering and theft of government funds will be a thing of the past… I recently shared an article by Winnie Monsod on “why is Heidi Mendoza not yet confirmed”…

          It’s really quite incredible, beyond my comprehension (am I that naive?) that some members of our Senate, specifically the CA, could be that thick skinned as to block appointments of the worthy appointees who they perceive as threat to their thieving ways.

          • cha says:

            Aah Grace, Heidi Mendoza’s case just makes my blood boil. Comparing the senator blocking her appointment to a dog (which I might have done once in jest) is an insult to all dogs, I might have known instead that he is actually the flea that feeds on the blood of dogs and cats and what have you.

            • The people behind that blocking are obviously supporters of VP Binay, if they can do this when the VP is not yet the President, it scares me to think of what more can they do when they are the ones in power.

      • Geng says:

        The saying that “there is enough for man’s need but not for his greed” literally denotes the insecurities that had plagued humans when success was defined as having more, much more than anyone’s neighbors or friends. Ahead in terms of material wealth. But the insecurities affected both in ways nobody ever imagined..
        The one who lacked wealth covets what his neighbor owned and the wealthy one is afraid pf losing what he painstakingly worked for to achieve.
        That is why I still can’t help but be amazed at the way of life of the Aetas who prefer to live away from so-called civilization. They have a better understanding of the concept of being at total peace with one another. They know and still practice the time-honored values of sharing even the meager food that they’re eating whenever a neighbor or even a stranger comes.
        Better yet, crabs are an unknown species to them in those mountains because they love each other unconditionally.

        • edgar lores says:


          The Aetas remind me of the Igbo tribe in “Things Fall Apart”.

          • Geng says:

            Thanks for the info about the Igbo tribe. I will surely watch the film.

            • Dee says:

              Did they make it into a film? I read the book a while back. It’s Google time!

              You should meet the Aetas, if you have not already. Their knowledge about indigenous herbal medicine is astounding.

            • edgar lores says:

              Geng and Dee,

              I was actually referring to the book. There is a 1970 movie and a TV series. IMDB gives the movie a high rating of 7.6 but there are no comments or reviews. Apparently, the movie had only two special screenings and was not publicly released because (Chinua) Achebe sued Hollywood for butchering his book. (He cried when he saw the movie.)

              The second part of the book, which depicts the clash of tribal culture with white man’s missionary culture, parallels the Philippine experience, with local gods replaced by a “lunatic” religion. The wisdom of indigenous culture is being erased everywhere.

              I just read it recently. I am trying to tick off all “the greatest books of all time” as part of my bucket list.

    • edgar lores says:


      As usual, penetrating insight.

      One paradox: why do Filipinos who should have Abundance Mentality still have Crab Mentality? These people have enough resources and success for themselves but are still unwilling to share. For them there is no need to cope, they have already coped. And yet they just want more and more. And more. It’s not a trait limited to Filipinos.

  12. Mel NL says:

    Thanks, Dee, for describing the Filipino ‘crab mentality’. I absolutely agree with you.

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