Schadenfreude. That is, one Filipino cannot stand to see another Filipino more successful than they.
This expression or observation of human behavior got its start. it is said, with someone watching a low-sided basket of live crabs. Each crab doesn’t really want to be in the basket … perhaps the sense their impending doom … so they individually try to claw their way up the side of the basket to freedom.
Some say because of their innate need to not let someone else get out before they do, or perhaps just because of a more simple urge to use the convenient legs and body of their fellow crab as an escape ladder, other crabs will grab the first adventurous climber with their claws and pull. The weave of the basket provides enough grasp to give a single crab at least a fighting chance to drag himself up and over the edge, but nowhere hear enough traction to pull any “hangers-on” along with him … so he loses his grip, tumbles back into the writhing mass of crabs at the bottom and invariably the process begins over again, usually with another crab taking the lead.
It’s fascinating and a bit sad to watch … left alone almost any crab might make it to safety but as long as there is a group it’s almost dead certain that they will all end up in the cook pot.
The person who first told me about this behavior trait is a Filipino and the story is well known to many Filipinos who widely call the situation the “Filipino Crab mentality” … the group conspires to see that no one in the group excels.
Now I don’t want to create the impression that this characteristic is completely unique to Filipinos. As soon as you make any sweeping generalization like this about a people, you are wrong. There are millions of Filipinos who help each other … indeed it’s a very common Filipino trait within families … and there are certainly millions and millions of people in other ethnic groups that tend to be jealous of the success of their peers and will even pull their fellow travelers down.
But facts are indeed facts and if you live here in the Philippines for any length of time, you are going to see the crab mentality in action nearly every single day.
In particular you’ll see this attitude in evidence every time you come across a successful business person … Filipino or foreigner. Sit and talk to some neighbors about Henry Sy, the desperately poor immigrant who came to the Philippines 50 years ago with nothing but a dream and built a huge retail empire that provides hundreds of thousands of decent jobs here in the Philippines. Comments you are likely to get?
“Oh he’s a horrible person, he didn’t build all those stores himself, he used borrowed money.” Ummm hello? Virtually every business with more than one employee, and many one man businesses as well, borrow money on a regular basis. Goodness, if you had to find the money in their own pocket to fund their business completely, how many of us would have ever even found our first after school part time job? Sounds like sour grapes to me.
Let me give another illustration of this real-world problem. I was talking with a lady who is a real graduate dentist with experience in the field. She’s a single mom right now and planning to go back to work overseas. Why isn’t she a dentist here in the Philippines? “Can’t be done”. I showed this doctor the web page for one of Bob’s clients, a dentist who uses the web to get more business and is also more than willing to offer treatment to foreigners. My dentist friend’s response? “Oh her prices are outlandish, no one will pay for that sort of dental work around here.”
Well the whole point of the exercise was to show that a dentist doesn’t have to focus only on the clientele in his/her local area. If you took a look at Dr. Lourdes Tingson – Lebosada’s web site prices and have had an dental work done in the US in recent history, you can see that you could easily finance a vacation trip to the Philippines just on the money you would save from getting a couple crowns done while you’re here. So her prices are “outlandish”? Hardly, in my book, and I have the dental bills to prove it 😉
So what’s the point, Dave? How can this problem be fixed? If I was that smart, I’d be rich. I can’t fix the “anti-success” attitude. But I can offer some advice to both my Filipino readers and my foreigner readers who interact with Filipino friend’s and loved ones every single day.
- Recognize that this Schadenfreude “crabbiness” exists. If you have a good idea to help some one you have to remember that it likely won’t be met with smiles and open enthusiasm when you first bring it up. From a personal standpoint this has been a source of some sadness to me … and I expect many other Westerners have had the same experience.
- Take smaller steps. Perhaps instead of finding a dentist who wants to set up a practice from scratch you could use a dentist’s skills to help build a directory of dentists who want publicity and overseas clients, as just one possible example. I truly believe Filipinos can accomplish anything, but expecting someone to take a vague and unfamiliar idea and ‘run with it” may lead to disappointment on both sides. One step at a time.
- (especially for my Filipino readers) … It’s wonderful to have the support and love of family, barkada and other friends. But if you let others make your decisions for you, even the best of friends my be unconsciously stricken with the “crab” disease. If you see an opportunity, and you can take it without huge risk, then don’t shy away just because others aren’t familiar with it, or worse yet seem almost scared that you’ll succeed and make money with it. You can do much more than you think you can, and almost certainly a lot more than your friend’s think you can.
Many Americans have all but forgotten him, and except for certain WWII vets he never loomed large in many people’s live, but General Douglas MacArthur is still a very real figure to many Filipinos and held in high esteem by more than a few. “Doug” left a few famous words behind, but one message he left I think speaks both to Filipinos and also to my fellow Americans in these times that seem troubled and for some even devoid of hope.
“There is no security in this world, only opportunity”