Crabs in a basket is a combination of urban legend meets YouTube. While there are a few different versions of the story, (one seen on you tube) there is one I like best. Picture the kitchen of a restaurant. In a backroom is a basket of crabs, still alive, crawling and fighting with each other.
When one crab tries to climb out to freedom, a funny thing happens. As the crab heads to the top with freedom within striking distance, another crab will pull him back. If all the crabs are experiencing the same fate, somehow it doesn’t seem as bad. If one crab gets out, it points out to the other crabs that their life is bad in comparison.
Think about Miss M. She and every one else has been miserable when there is a change at the top of the organization. She finds another job. Once announced, she is surprised by her co-workers response, it is not all positive. Counting the days until her contract is over, every day becomes a mental challenge; the snubs, the meetings she is not invited to attend, and the accusations that question her integrity.
I thought, this is like the crabs in the basket. Because Miss M was getting out of a bad situation, she is like the crab getting close to the top of the basket. Another crab is going to pull her back. The “pulling back” may be physically, mentally or emotionally. One of the crabs is breaking for freedom, and must be stopped.
It may seem odd that a friendly co-worker one day is sabotaging you the next day. Jaime Clark, the ninth Canadian to successfully climb to the top of Mt. Everest, had a similar situation. When training for his first climb, his teammates were all tied together by ropes as they were practicing techniques. When one got ahead of the others, the ones below the leader would throw stones to slow him down. Imagine throwing stones at someone with whom you are connected. It’s the crabs in the basket syndrome. Jaime Clark cancelled that climb.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. When you get the promotion, move to a nicer neighborhood, or drive a different car, know that the crab syndrome isn’t just about you, it’s bigger than you.