Crab mentality – where does it come from? | Inquirer

Crab mentality – where does it come from?

Can the “crab mentality” of disdaining the success of others ever change? Is this behavior unique to Filipinos? Or is it also seen among other Asians, Latinos, and communities who have had a history of being oppressed?

Johnny, a Filipino, is an upcoming success in his career-business and with his community. He is beginning to be recognized. However, there seems to be a negative backlash and unfounded criticism of Johnny that’s coming from other Filipinos. Instead of lauding and supporting Johnny, some fellow Filipinos seem to disdain him.


Is this the classic “crab” behavior? (Crabs in a bucket pull back the other crabs who are moving ahead.) Where is this coming from? Can this be changed?

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Studies in human behavior show that one’s crab mentality comes from a personal insecurity or low self-esteem, which is usually unknown to the individual. It may be that the feeling of disdain, jealousy, and antagonism is justified. There is usually a sense of being self-righteous and virtuous. But, why is this behavior prevalent in particular societies? I have seen it across the various cultures and countries. It seems to be common with societies and groups that have experienced suppression, bullying, and oppression for a period of time, across generations and decades, if not centuries.

Crab mentality is learned as part of societal acculturation, adaptation, and survival.  It is learned by parents and elders to suppress the success-linked behaviors of their children and of newcomers in a tribe. This is the adaptive behavior of the family to survive and escape the wrath of the masters in the community. Intelligent and success behaviors in children were seen as dangerous for the people who held power. The masters who wielded power over the group knew that intelligent and self-determined children would grow up to question, rebel, and subvert the existing power structure of the community.

Understanding the behavior is not meant to justify it but to have society, family, organization, and the individual create the appropriate solution in order be free of this behavior.

Once revealed and seen as dysfunctional behavior that doesn’t serve the goals of the individual or group, a new behavior can be consciously taken. A change in culture can be managed. Societies do this by enacting laws that conform to its moral code.

Organizations explicitly identify their Core Values and Code of Conduct to define their group culture and how they aspire to communicate and treat each other. Disciplinary Action, reprimand, and expulsion from group membership can be exercised for those deemed to be miscreants. Undoubtedly, this can also be abused by the group. Imperfect as it is, a Code of Conduct and Core Values are the ethics, ideals, and aspirations that enable group self-management.

As a practical example, what follows below is a draft of the Code of Conduct and Guiding Principles of the FilAmVoice.US to address undesirable behaviors of crab mentality, gossip, corruption, character assassination, and divisiveness.


CORE VALUES: (Timeless. See Code of Conduct)

  • Vision and Values Led
  • Integrity and Transparency
  • Inclusive, Bayanihan, and Communication
  • Servant Leadership


Vision and Values Led

“The act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be. A vivid, imaginative conception or anticipation”;

“Adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.“

  • A bias for action is leadership from a desired Vision of a future. This Vision is not necessarily defined by the limitations of the present nor by the considerations of the past. It is a conscious choice for optimism-positivism and not for negativity-pessimism.
  • The foundations of our rock-solid unity to overcome rancor and disagreement, is based on the strength of our common vision and the confidence on our shared values — for Family, Freedom, and Faith. We strive for unity, and compromise when necessary. We address conflicts from the greater good of our common vision and values.

Integrity and Transparency

“The state of being whole, entire, or undiminished”;

  1. Deepen the research and understanding of Fil-Am contributions. Celebrate the 400 years of Fil-Am exceptionalism in US history. Inculcate Fil-Am pride of identity and history of victory over suppression and oppression.
  1. Transparency of intention, agenda, financial income-expense, and clarity of measurable outcomes are crucial. Conflicts of interest are handled with full disclosure and transparency. Colonial legacies of corruption are overcome by setting an example of the highest ethical standards. Valor-virtue-values are the foundations in raising the Fil-Am voice of undiminished integrity.


Inclusivity, Bayanihan, and Communication

  • Build a culture that is inclusive. Individuals and groups of Filipino descent, racially and ethnically are welcome. Membership is open to anyone who is aligned and committed to support the vision and values of the Fil-Am Voice USA Movement. All Philippine tribes, (a group or class of people with strong common traits, values, or interests), languages, ethnicities, regions, provinces, religions are acknowledged.
  • Bayanihan(the spirit of communal unity and cooperation) volunteerism and initiative is the Filipino term of helping and supporting each other and the community to succeed. Create a culture of recognition that edifies (uplift, build up) each co-volunteer and leader. Consciously eradicate any colonial vestige of “divide and rule-crab mentality” and back biting. We focus, accept, work with, and build on the talents, strengths, and capability of volunteers; and not on their limitations.
  • Seek to live with the truth through primary source, direct experience-communication and not through secondary source hearsay. Differences of viewpoints, analysis, and opinion are settled through Servant Leadership communication and edification. There is a specific focus to avoid any colonial vestige of ad hominem (Attacking an opponent’s character or motives rather than answering the argument or claim. Appealing to one’s prejudices, emotions, or special interests rather than to one’s intellect or reason.) and personal criticism.

Servant Leadership

“It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.” Robert Greenleaf

10 Principles: 

Listening, Empathy, Healing, Awareness, Persuasion, Conceptualization, Foresight, Stewardship, Commitment to the Growth of People, and Building Community. (The Journal of Virtues & Leadership)

Jorge “Jerry” Perez de Tagle, PhD, lives in the US and the Philippines and is an author, change management practitioner and thought leader in the private and public sector. He taught at Syracuse University, New York and has his PhD in Social Change, Honoris Causa, and Candidacy in Organization Development.

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