Filipino Mentality – Chapter 2

“Crabs in a Bucket” or, “Me First”

“Crab mentality, sometimes referred to as crabs in the bucket, is a way of thinking best described by the phrase, “if I can’t have it, neither can you.”The metaphor refers to a bucket or pot of crabs. Individually, the crabs could easily escape from the pot, but instead they grab at each other in a useless “king of the hill” competition which prevents any from escaping and ensures their collective demise.[2][3][4] The analogy in human behavior is claimed to be that members of a group will attempt to negate or diminish the importance of any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of envy, spite, conspiracy, or competitive feelings, to halt their progress.”

Before living in the Philippines, I guess I had somewhere heard this phrase, but don’t believe I ever gave it a second thought or considered what it meant in practicality. Now that I have been here for a few years, I know all too well exactly what it means and what it looks like. To be blunt, it ain’t pretty!

I experience the “crabs in a bucket” mentality everyday in my life in the Philippines in simple forms fromstanding in line at MacDonalds or Jollibee, to driving around in traffic within Dumaguete City. In any line up, a momentary lack of focus will mean a quick loss of my place and a few extra minutes of waiting for my food, cashing of a cheque, or paying for my purchase. Sitting on my motorbike, I have been sometimes utterly amazed at a seemingly unsolveable deadlock because some one has pulled out into an intersection and others in all directions will not cede an inch. The most disturbing example crabs in a bucket mentality that I witnessed first hand was when I was trying to board the last bus of the day from Cebu to Dumaguete City. I was absolutely shocked when I saw grown men violently shoving women and children out of the way to get in the door, lest they miss that last bus and have to spoend the night waiting for the next one the morning after.

How does this affect my everyday life in the Philippines?

I guess that depends on my mood. Some days when feeling pretty centered and feeling secure, it just rolls off my back and I can find a sense of amusement in it all, however other days I either get really pissed off and rude. On my worst days, I make the foolish mistake of buying into the mentality myself and you will find me shoving myself forcibly to the front of the line.

How do I (or should) deal with instances where I run into the “crabs in a bucket” mentality?

What I have found is unemotional assettiveness is the key. There is no use getting mad or trying to shame anyone into waiting their turn, (behind me, lol), and I am usually just best served by planting myself firmly where I deserve to be and making it difficult for others to push me aside without a physical confrontation .(confrontation is another thing Filipinos seem to want to avoid like the plague). In traffic, when it my turn to go and it is safe, I go. The biggest thing though is that I have to be in the mindset of acceptance. This mentality is just something that Filipinos have and I am not going to change it, so there is no use trying or worrying too long and hard about it.

As a conclusion, I also should state that understanding is the key to my acceptance. There have been times when I thought that I was better than Filipinos because I had the manners to be polite and the moral fortitude to be unselfish, however I remember a conversation I had with my wife one day and this gives me insight into why Filipinos, in general, could be this way. When I feed the pets, I usually get dirty looks from my wife knowing full well she does not approve of the size of the protions I feed them, let alone what I feed them. In an exasperated mood one day I asked what the big deal was, and the answer I got was that when she was a kid, anything fed to animals meant less food on her plate. Of course she is far beyond being in that position any more, but it did make me realize that the average person here in the Philippines grows up scraping through life for basic survival. I believe that if I had grown up how most of them do, I too would have an ingrained mentality to fight.Survival of the fittest is one of the most basic instincts of the human race, and one that a westerner like me where everything is aplenty, has not had much need to develop.