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“What drives someone to hold others back from doing, being or achieving something?” asks blogger Elvina Quaison.

There are so many topics and situations that arise that you just want to talk about. There are questions to be asked and thoughts to be shared. A space to learn and gain clarity as well as get that frustration off your chest (in a respectful manner) and to hear what others think and feel about the same subject.

Let’s talk.

Have you heard the term ‘crabs in a bucket’? I heard the term but as I hadn’t seen the phenomena, I headed to YouTube to have a look. The video gave some idea, but then I found this clip explaining the analogy very clearly.

Why am I talking about crabs in a bucket? Well, I recently attended an event celebrating Ghana @60, which included the screening of the documentary 'From Gold Coast to Ghana, a Glorious History of Self Determination'. I liked the documentary overall; the filmmaker had found brilliant archival footage of a busy, productive Ghana with factories producing all kinds of products, including nails, cars and even cigarettes (there was a comical shot of a female worker grabbing a puff after lunch – such a contrast to today’s attitudes!).

Following the political wrangling that took Ghana to full independence and hearing new perspectives from descendants and those associated with the Big Six to broaden the more known narrative of Kwame Nkrumah’s journey to an independent Ghana, was insightful.

So how does this documentary relate to the term ‘crabs in a bucket’? Well, it quickly became evident that this film wasn’t an objective narrative of the path to a free Ghana. Instead, it felt like a repositioning of the independence story to elevate JB Danquah over Kwame Nkrumah by not so subtly showing Nkrumah in an unflattering light, and suggesting that the praise for his role in Ghana’s independence instead belonged to JB Danquah. I found this disappointing at a time of celebrating 60 years of Ghana’s independence, and the country’s recent peaceful democratic transition – both occasions for hope of a more progressive and united future.

We often dismiss those crabs at the bottom of the bucket as jealous ‘haters’ and insignificant irritants that we must confront in our battle to reach the top of the bucket and freedom beyond.

This aspect of the documentary felt to me petty, unnecessary and low. This could have been a more balanced film that both appreciated the roles and contributions of those who paved the way to independence, and provided constructive criticism by showing that great people are also human and fallible. While there was a great deal of worth in the film, its tone let it down and left me, and some others I overheard and spoke to, feeling that it had torn Nkrumah down to raise up JB Danquah. By perpetuating the unhelpful actions and characteristics of crabs in a bucket, in the end, no-one will win or survive the bucket that is Ghana.

‘Crabs in a bucket’ was a term I heard a lot, both as part of the African Caribbean community in Britain and when I was working in Africa. Too often, people felt they couldn’t work with or trust other black people because all they wanted was to pull you down. Over time, I have realised that this belief is not only held by black communities, but that all cultures hold similar views, even if it is directed in different ways.

We often dismiss those crabs at the bottom of the bucket as jealous ‘haters’ and insignificant irritants that we must confront in our battle to reach the top of the bucket and freedom beyond. Yet, not all of us that battle those crabs pulling others down are strong enough to follow the advice of Ghanaian entrepreneur extraordinaire, Paa Kwesi Nduom. When I asked him how to counter this phenomenon, his response was: ‘Don’t mind them - because if you do, you’ll sink. Continue to do what you need to do. They won’t necessarily give up, but you will become stronger and able to outrun them. You just need to work harder.’

‘Not minding them’ doesn’t mean that the challenges these ‘crabs’ bring go away; they lie in wait to get you later or grab the next person. But what toxic feelings inhibit the crab, compelling them to pull others – and themselves – back? What drives someone to hold others back from doing, being or achieving something? It’s easy to call them ‘haters’ and try to keep it moving, but I feel there is something deeper there, and that these actions reflect their own self-worth. We like to imagine that people who are ‘making’ it are lucky, special or magic in some way. What these crabs at the bottom know is that this is not the case. The crabs recognise that we are all fundamentally the same, but that some people choose to push themselves harder, be more disciplined, more focused and more decisive. They dedicate time to self-development, their business, or education - whatever it takes to become successful and get out of the bucket.

The crabs at the bottom know what it takes to make it, but don’t want to have to do what is required. Seeing the industrious crab diligently fighting against obstacles, be they people, environment, social position, money or gender, to excel, is like having an annoying mirror held up with a sign saying: ‘You could be me if you really tried - and you know it.’

The crabs at the bottom know what it takes to make it, but don’t want to have to do what is required.

So, the crabs, who can be any of us at different moments, feel jealousy, inadequacy, irritation, frustration and other uncomfortable emotions. These fester within us, sending out toxins in the form of sarcasm, digs, mean spiritedness, gossip, pleasure in others’ downfall, sabotage, and so on. This either spurs on the recipient or it wears them down, and we all lose the benefits that person or entity would have brought.

But, sometimes, that struggle is internal. Both that mighty crab and those horrid little crabs can be you, with the struggle happening within you. And the bucket? Yes, that’s you too. How can you fight those internal crabs of insecurity, fear, self-sabotage, procrastination, low self-esteem and lack of self-belief? How do you overpower them so you can be free to achieve your goals, your dreams, the life you want to have? And, if you are one of those crabs holding others back, how do you stop?

In both cases, the answer is the same – by taking responsibility. Seemingly easy, it is far from simple to do. Taking responsibility means honest self-appraisal; recognising and addressing our emotional and practical failings. It means paying attention to what we say, how we say it, and what motivates our actions. If spite or mean words, even when sugar-coated, make up our conversation, we need to hear ourselves and dig deep to find out why, and then do something about it.

Until we take the time and effort to know who we are, where we are in our lives and if we are walking our path (or avoiding it because it looks too difficult and yet taking that time and energy to block others as they walk theirs), we will never see the progress we want in our personal lives, our communities, our countries and our world.

It’s not easy, but neither is scrabbling about in a bucket and pretending you are content with your life. Time for a change, don’t you think?

You can tweet me @ElvinaQuaison and share your thoughts with me.

Stay in touch and let’s talk!

Blog: https://elvinaquaison.wordpress.com/

Twitter: @ElvinaQuaison

Email: elvina@silksolutionsglobal.com

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