Getting Out: Crabs in a Bucket

When fishermen catch a bunch of crabs, it is not unusual for them to keep the crabs in a bucket and not have a lid on it. Common sense would tell you that this is a dumb idea because the crabs would just climb out of the bucket. However, the fishermen know that this is probably not going to happen because if one crab tries to climb out, the other crabs will grab onto the would-be escapee and pull it down in an effort to pull themselves out. No one escapes, and at the end of the day, they go on to end up on someone’s dinner plate.

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The general idea is that the mob mentality can keep a person from forging ahead and doing better for themselves. “If I can’t do it, neither can you!”

This analogy is a perfect example of trying to get out of the cycle of poverty. Even if you strip away the systems in place that keep people in poverty (welfare, cost of education, etc), it doesn’t consider that one of the biggest hurdles of breaking the cycle are the ones closest to you: friends and family.

You hear about this peppered through the pages of the news: people who win the lottery, professional athletes. I don’t have to look much further than my own personal experiences. I grew up poor, my whole family did. My father’s family is a never-ending cycle of it, and only recently have some of my generation or newer are getting out of the pot. I’ve heard the crab in the pot attitudes echoing throughout my entire life.

  • Cousin marries, they acquire a couple of modest rental properties and during the summers have their own fireworks stand. (She thinks she’s too good to spend time with us since she has money.)
  • Aunt remarries a guy who works hard at a steady job. He’s a hard worker. He eats out whenever he wants, has a hobby of rebuilding classic cars and going to car shows, and drives a newer truck. (She married a high-roller, and now she’s thinks her shit doesn’t stink.)
  • People that live in nice houses and have swimming pools are automatically assholes.

I even experienced this directly. I received a settlement after a bad car accident. A family member assumed I would give him half because he happened to be in the car with me when it happened (he was uninjured). When I told the family member that the settlement was for medical bills and the rest would be applied to nursing school, I was accused of being greedy and putting money over family. That family member was living with me at the time, and decided to stop paying their share of the rent because they felt I didn’t need the money.

Another example being that my chosen career path pays well. While it does not put me into a wealthy category, it certainly offers security, good benefits, and not worrying about things like broken down cars, food in the fridge, and clothes on my back. Instead of being happy, family members have replied bitterly, “Must be nice to not have to worry!”

As far as crabs in a barrel? I’ve experienced that, too. I kept “loaning”money to a family member who was always short on their house payment. “If we miss this payment, we will get foreclosed on, and our kids will be out on the streets.” I found out the hard lesson that loans to family members weren’t really loans at all, but viewed as some sort of  profit-sharing between family members that did well and those who couldn’t manage their money. I almost ended up losing my house because I was funneling so much money to help other family members, that I was neglecting my own needs.

Just like crabs in a barrel.

Why, you  may wonder, would someone almost go into foreclosure to help a family member? Guilt. It is the guilt of getting out, and leaving family members behind. This guilt starts at an early age. When you are poor, you don’t have anything but your family. This idea is drilled into you, that the family is all you have, and you must keep it intact at all costs. This mentality, while seemingly noble, is what not only keeps poor people poor, it also guards secrets that should not be kept in the dark, like molestation. All fueled by the guilt that consumes you and prevents you from fighting to get out of that damn bucket.

Some would argue that there is honor in such blind loyalty to family. Looking at it now, it looks more like insanity.

I have a cousin, who has a niece, and she will be the first in her family to attend university. Not just any university. A big one. She is the oldest of 6 kids, and she has known poverty for her entire life. While her Dad has been encouraging, and an Aunt who has been her biggest cheerleader, her brothers and sisters seem to be disinterested in doing better for themselves, and a mother that thinks panhandling and prostitution is a perfectly acceptable way of making money. I would think about her a lot, knowing just how hard she would have to work, and how difficult it would be to maintain focus.

“At this stage in your life, the decisions you make will affect the rest of your life. Move cautiously, be smart, and never lose focus,” I told her.

As I write this, she is home, pregnant with the father of the baby having seemingly abandoned her, and slim to no chance she will be returning to college. No job skills other than working at a Subway, no solid support system. Another crab, almost out, now pulled back into the bucket. The cycle of poverty ensured for the next generation.

I hate that goddamn bucket.

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