Over the years, I’ve come to realize that an aphorism is the particle board of conversation: cheap and easy to drill holes through. They hold no weight, and when challenged, the trite words collapse as if we never meant them at all.
Like many linguistic tools, aphorisms are best used with care instead of being misapplied to situations that often do not fit.
This crossed my mind when thinking of the phrase “crabs in a barrel.” The visceral image is one of crabs sitting in a pot waiting to be cooked, with an ambitious crab doing his best to head upward toward freedom and his compatriots yanking him down with their claws. No one escapes the pot; they all get served up steaming hot.
I often hear the phrase in reference to minorities not giving back to their respective communities. We can’t get ahead because of the crabs in a barrel mentality that pits brother against brother and makes them believe, erroneously, that they are enemies. I have subscribed to this theory, have theoretically admonished people for failing to work collectively toward a common goal.
But what do you do if a common goal becomes a conflict of self-interest?
A friend of mine relayed a quandary she is facing. Through some research, she discovered a professional opportunity with a short application window. There are several other colleagues with whom she interacts daily, who could potentially benefit from this opening. However, it’s highly competitive. They are colleagues in a field with few minorities and minorities are often overlooked because of social networking deficiencies, which makes landing that coveted spot even more difficult.
She asked me, “Would I be wrong for not mentioning this opportunity to my friends and coworkers? It would be weird seeing them daily and omitting the fact that I’m waiting to hear back from this great position I applied for.”
On the other hand, informing her coworkers would be tantamount to increasing the competition pool. What happens in the event you compete for a great job with a friend and one of you actually gets it?
I thought long and hard. Finally, I advised her to keep her application confidential, but pass along any opportunities she hears about to her colleagues.
Some might say that not sharing any and all information makes my friend that proverbial crab. But I disagree. You have a better advantage in helping someone up if you are already there yourself. I’m confident that if my friend earns this slot, she’ll do her absolute best to smooth the pathway for others to come behind her.
Because as long as you don’t advance on the backs of the other crabs, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being one less crab stuck in the barrel.
Do you think I gave her good advice? What would you have said?