Crabs In A Bucket


There’s an old parable about crabs in a bucket.

If you put a crab in a bucket and it can climb out of that bucket, it will climb out. But if you put 2 crabs in the bucket, when one of the crabs tries to climb out, the other will pull it back in. Neither will ever escape. It doesn’t matter that it’s possible to escape, the crabs will hold each other back from doing so.

We’re no different than crabs. It’s a sad part of the society we’re living in. When one independent freedom seeker tries to “climb out of the bucket” the rest of the herd will try to pull him/her back in.

  • Teachers are guilty of this. (Which is why traditional schooling is a waste.)
  • The media is guilty of this. (Which is why limiting or eliminating your exposure to the news and other media is essential.)
  • Your Parents and friends may very well be guilty as well. (They don’t do it on purpose, they’ve been conditioned by teachers and the media.)

I’m not without guilt. I’ve noticed myself doing this on occasion and it’s upsetting to think about. For example, somebody brings an idea to me and I immediately shoot it down. “Ehh, I don’t think that will work.” And you know what? It might not. But who am I to shoot someone down?

I’m supposed to be supportive of my friends, family, and business partners.

So from now on, if a friend comes to me with an idea, instead of shooting it down if I think maybe it’s not doable I’ll say “Hmm, I’m not sure I can help, but don’t listen to me. What steps can you take right now to make it happen? And how do you think I can help?”

Just think of the possibilities if we all supported those close to us in this way.

While it’s obvious that the majority of the population will never cross over from the dark side, I know because of the snowball effect that the more we support each other the more we’ll support each other.

What do you say?


Odds & Ends

You have until next week, Thursday March 3 to be exact, to submit your guest post. Looking forward to it!


    • Hey Patrick,

      Yes, it’s a great book. As Miss P points out, the problems arise when people know you will say yes. So make it a secret trial as in the book.


      • When you started the yes-trial back in October I wanted to test if it would work on me. And hell it did. I told nobody about my experiment but it helped me to engage so many great things that it has become part of me.

        Thanks for both posts ;)

  1. @Patrick, Karol did a similar experiment recently ( the experiment didn’t end too well, because people weren’t mindful in their requests. (

    Not only are we conditioned to pull people back into the bucket we are also conditioned to try and solve other peoples problems, instead of helping them solve them themselves. If I tell my sweetheart about a problem he will immediately shoot solutions at me, instead of asking how I envision my problem to be solved. I think that the situation you describe is similar; your friend comes with an idea and instead of asking him how you get there you start running through ideas how you would get there and discard them all.

    Mindfullness of our own reactions and thoughts is really key to actually being of use to people, rather than saying yes to everything.

    • Interesting point Miss P. I wonder if it’s so bad if somebody helps to try to solve the problem though? I feel like if somebody is asking somebody else for help then that’s OK. Unsolicited “solving” may not be as welcome.

      • I think helping someone reflect/talk through their problem-solving-path is always a good thing. Personally I try to refrain from the you-should-do-this-to-solve-your-problem-path, that way is the way of most primary education. Of course if you can walk the fine line of I-would-do-this-what-would-you-do, then more power to you. I guess it boils down to thinking about your intentions and what you’re saying before saying it.

        • Good points once again. :) Yeah, the “you should do this” type of help isn’t really beneficial. I’ve caught myself doing that far more times than I’d like to admit.

    • @Miss P. Thanks for the reply. What I actually meant was that I would accept other people’s ideas without criticising them or trying to help them without them asking. That is a challenge in itself, as you truthfully mention.

      I would not dare accept every request other people would do me without thinking twice. I wish to be in control of my life as much as I can ;-)

  2. Totally agree. We must get away from traditional “crab thinking” and support, encourage and help! For great things to happen, we must have an open mind and believe that all things really are possible.

    I was talking to an old buddy of mine on Thursday and we were discussing what I’m working on and playing Jordan. As we were chatting (via phone) he stopped me and said I like what you just said. Not sure of what he was talking about, I asked what exactly are you referring to. He said, you said WHEN you play Jordan. You really believe this is going to happen. I told him, IT IS going to happen. No doubt!

    There is also no doubt that my belief has been aided by all of the encouragement and support from the people around me, like you.

    To show people that something as wild as a normal guy playing Michael Jordan IS possible, has fueled me like I never expected. I’m on a mission to play MJ and kill doubt.

    Thanks for helping me along the way.

    • Thanks Kenny. That’s a great story and awesome that you playing MJ is so ingrained that you now say “when” not “if.” I love this –> “I’m on a mission to play MJ and kill doubt.” That can work for anything! “I’m on a mission to X and kill Y.” (Y could very well be doubt, but fear, complacency, etc, could work as well.)

  3. Hey man,

    Short and sweet. The crab visual is very powerful and I know it has effected my own thinking over the last few years since the first time I heard it.

    I used to go crab fishing when I was a youngster and it truly is insane how they drag each other back down and yet we do the very same thing.

    Heres to a more supportive blogging community and world. (Damiit, I sound like a beauty queen winner….and I want world peace)

    • It’s one of my favorite parables and I felt compelled to spread the word.

      I’ve never gone crab fishing, but it would be interesting to see just how they do what they do in the bucket.

      P.S. Mr Blogging 2011? Is that a pageant? :)

  4. Hi Karol,
    I would be interested to hear more about your thoughts on why you think that teachers and the media are the big bad crabs. :)

    • Hey Rosa, I’ve actually written a lot about this. Maybe not so much the media. But negative news (almost all news) = fear mongering and holding the masses back. Teachers = learn how to do exactly what I say and don’t think for yourself.

    • Teachers an media per se are not crabs, or rather there are exceptions. But each time a child is told to do the math problem the way they were taught and no other way is a crab and each time the child gets marked down in an essay because they didn’t write what the teacher taught them was the right interpretation is a crab. My last four years of high school almost suffocated me with this type of thinking and, while I am a teacher at heart, I would rather starve than work at a (traditional) school with other teachers enforcing the crab rule.

  5. I’m really conscious of this impulse as well and follow a similar rule. Notice this impulse a lot more in developing countries, although I think it happens just as much in the states but its more subtle or psychological.

    • The issue is that we’ve been really desensitized to it since it’s so common that we don’t even notice it. I haven’t spent enough time in developing countries to get a grasp of this, but I feel like it’s a human trait regardless of location.

  6. What’s interesting is when people ask your opinion about their idea and are only looking for a “yes, that’s a great idea.” Anything else and they walk away dejected. It’s hard to be encouraging and actually helpful at the same time.

    • I know what you mean. In that situation it might be best to ask “Do you really want my advice or do you just want me to tell you it’s a good idea?” I’m pretty sure Chris Guillebeau wrote about this before.

    • People communicate on a range of different levels—the literal word is only one; and not even the most important one. Maybe they’re not asking for your opinion. Maybe they’re asking for your moral support.

  7. I found myself getting jealous of other people starting cool projects and getting opportunities that I wished I could have too. So now, as soon as that feeling arises I knock it out by getting excited for them or thinking of ways I can help them out. It just plain feels better to be happy for someone and help them out and you know I’m all about the positive vibes :)

    • You’ve hit on what I call “Good Jealousy” and it’s an article in my Drafts that will get posted eventually. In general jealousy is our most useless emotion. Absolutely nothing good comes from it. But good jealousy, where you get excited for your friends/peers, is productive even if it might originally come from a “what about me?!” place.

  8. Karol, this reminds me of the “monkeys and the banana” story from Chris Guillebeau’s AONC book. Regardless of the animal, we all need to be more human about it!

  9. I’ve found that I do a great job of being my own ‘2nd crab’.

    I’m great at being supportive and helpful for other people that want to achieve their dreams, but, when it comes to my own, I’ll tell myself to ‘be realistic’ much sooner than anyone else can drag me down.

    It hit home when reading “The War of Art” where it says something along the lines of, ‘The person that constantly sacrifices to help other people’s dreams come true is not doing anyone a favor. It leads to resentment. It also means that they aren’t busy making the art that they’re supposed to be making.’

    Part of the trouble with shifting and going after my own dreams is, of course, identifying which dream I actually want to pursue.

    • Yes, The Resistance. We all deal with it. As for dreams, which is your most important? If you knew you’d only be able to accomplish one dream, which one would it be? This isn’t something that can always be answered in a split second so don’t worry if it takes some time/thought. Additionally, if you’re in the thick of it and realize you don’t actually want that dream (this can surely happen), there is nothing wrong with quitting (Seth Godin calls reaching this point The Dip) and pursuing something else. (As long as the quitting and pursuing isn’t a constant replacement for actually doing something.)

  10. Hi My name is Deb

    Is it pulling your crab back into the bucket to say that I disagree with you?

    If, when the crab leaves the bucket it will be overwhelming the environment in which it finds itself, should it be held back?

    I think we have reached a stage where we are all so free to create now that we must do it consciously (or mindfully). I think good things can come from asking honest and probing questions of our own creations as well as everybody else’s.

    Enjoyed your thought provoking post (and I’m not just saying that :-))

  11. Wonderful post, Karol. Reminds me of Chris Guillebeau’s story about the monkeys getting blasted with water every time they try to escape. Then, even when the water blast goes away, they all stop trying to get out.

    Times change. What didn’t work for us might well work for someone else. All we can do is cheer them on and lend a hand when they need it.

  12. Yea I like it that you’ve realized that too, I’ve been that guy and later have come to the conclusion that it was wrong. I mean we really never know if an idea is good or bad unless we test it.

    that was a great parable there about the crabs, now I’m curious about Chris’s monkey post, gotta go see what he says.

  13. For humans the psychology can get pretty complex. I find this especially true when I share things about how I’m trying to eat better and stop eating preservatives and engineered food. I think people get defensive because they feel like I’m saying that somehow I’m better than they are for making an attempt to do something that they sort of deep down know that they should do too. I have to be super tactful when sharing my accomplishments towards finding freedom in my life because people who are still sleep walking get defensive REALLY easily. Being supportive of their baby steps towards freedom is much more helpful than preaching, which only ends up irritating them!

    • It’s not worth tip-toeing around people. If they can’t handle you bettering your life then they don’t deserve you. Being supportive of them is outstanding, but if they’re “pulling you back into the bucket” then it’s not a positive relationship.

      • Hahaha, true enough! I was specifically thinking of my family when I wrote that. I’m definitely in a state of flux when it comes to friendships as I have found that many of my former friends are 2nd crabs (and sleepwalkers) and we have grown apart as a result. Family is different though, they love me and want the best for me, but it is hard when you introduce these new ideas into their lives that they aren’t really prepared for. I love them and so I encourage their baby steps. I have a vested interest in them coming around, I’m stuck with them for life!!

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