Yesterday as I was looking up some information about the taba ng talangka and how it is harvested/made I found out that aside from the food, when you say talangka (crab) to Filipinos it could also be used to refer to someone who has a talangka mentality. That is to say, a way of referring to someone who is prone to jealousy and does not like to see others succeed or surpass them.
If you’ve ever been to a live seafood market, check out the live crabs in their bucket and you might notice where this phrase came from. As individual crabs on the edge of the bucket try to grab and claw their way out of the bucket, the crabs further down and more in the center will actually grab onto the crab and in doing so, pull it back down. This is often why no lids or other means of securing the crabs are needed. They do it to themselves.
So having a talangka or ‘crab’ mentality is akin to the behavior of crabs in a bucket. As we see those around us succeed, rather than feeling either a sense of joy for their accomplishment or a sense of inspiration in a desire to emulate them, we are overcome with feelings of jealousy and bitterness towards their success and wish to see them fall; perhaps even going so far as attempting to facilitate that either by sabotaging their attempts or undermining their accomplishments. In the Philippines we call this feeling of envy and bitterness ‘inggit’. When someone experiences a sudden burst of success and prosperity, we don’t want to be them, we want them to go back to being like us. Now to be fair, I don’t want to paint my fellow Filipinos as particularly resentful or envious people. Nor do I want to claim that this is an exclusively or even particularly Filipino trait. I think we can all relate, at least at times, to this particularly destructive feeling of envy. It is I believe, natural and even common, to sometimes feel jealous of the success of others. On its own this does not make us bad or narrow-minded people. I believe it is when we succumb to this tendency and lack the ability to elevate ourselves above this mindset that we become like those crabs in the buckets and turn a momentary reaction into a permanent characteristic.
What’s interesting is that while ‘talangka’ mentality might be a common phrase in the Philippines, most cultures have their own way of expressing this though; further emphasizing that this is a universal and deeply human emotion that we get to wrestle with, analyze, and grow out of. It is part of our experience in growing and improving. In Britain and Australia you may have heard of the ‘tall poppy syndrome’, which is strikingly similar. This comes back to a reference by the Greek historian Herodotus in his Histories series.
Periander had sent a herald to Thrasybulus and inquired in what way he would best and most safely govern his city. Thrasybulus led the man who had come from Periander outside the town, and entered into a sown field. As he walked through the wheat, continually asking why the messenger had come to him from Cypselus, he kept cutting off all the tallest ears of wheat which he could see, and throwing them away, until he had destroyed the best and richest part of the crop. Then, after passing through the place and speaking no word of counsel, he sent the herald away. When the herald returned to Cypselus, Periander desired to hear what counsel he brought, but the man said that Thrasybulus had given him none. The herald added that it was a strange man to whom he had been sent, a madman and a destroyer of his own possessions, telling Periander what he had seen Thrasybulus do. Periander, however, understood what had been done, and perceived that Thrasybulus had counselled him to slay those of his townsmen who were outstanding in influence or ability; with that he began to deal with his citizens in an evil manner.
-Herodotus, The HistoriesBook 5
References to ‘tall poppies’ can be found in recorded debates in Australian government over things like controversial knightings or taxpayer costs and in Britain it is even said that Margaret Thatcher is quoted to have used the phrase when discussing her governing philosophy.
So, while maybe not as extreme as resorting to trying to kill everyone with influence or power greater than yours, I do think we can agree that there is something comfortable, familiar, and sometimes regretfully habitual about feeling jealous of others. It is sometimes subtle, sneaking into our subconscious mind and influencing our thoughts. Maybe we find ourselves questioning just how someone got their position in a company or how they are able to afford themselves such seemingly nice and expensive things. Bitterness and vitriol leads us to sometimes accusing those around of us of certain unscrupulous things because we find that temptingly easier than rationalizing the benefit but also effort of genuine hard work. If we do find ourselves resorting to this kind of unproductive and toxic thinking, how do we elevate ourselves out of this ‘bucket’?
We have to realize that success and prosperity is not a ‘zero-sum game’. In game theory, this refers to any sort of game where the win of one person has to mean the loss of another to keep balance. I think one of the reasons why we have this ‘crab mentality’ or ‘tall poppy syndrome’ is because we fear that the success one of our peers achieves and experiences could in some way mean that there is less chance or room for our own. You may fear that there is only so much success and positive attention to go around and that its limited resource means you have to bring someone down before you can bring yourself up. This is often characterized in communities where upwards mobility is seemingly limited. For example in poor communities where it is difficult to ever leave the environment. I believe this could explain why a lot of Filipinos seem to either relate to, or fear they are the victims of, this ‘talangka’ mentality. When you grow up thinking that there are only so many opportunities out there in the world, you become cynical and jealous and wary of others’ success. From this, we have to realize that there is always room for everyone to succeed. In fact, it is often best to encourage and support the success of others because it keeps us focused on the goals rather than the misses. Not to mention that when I find myself in positions of advantage, I like to reach out to those who have helped and hopefully give them a leg up as well. It isn’t about being the only crab out of the bucket or the only poppy to grow tall. It’s about seeing how many we can work together to see succeed. Unless you’re a crab catcher. Then you make sure all those suckers stay down.
Ultimately, I think it is just important for us to realize that the world is bigger than just our bucket, and that just because one poppy may be taller than ours, the sun will reach both just as much. With the current political climate, I absolutely believe that there are certain peoples of power out there who would totally want us to believe that this is not the case. Right now so many of us are succumbing to the easy and insecure belief that there are people out there trying to ‘get us’ and that their attempts at trying to secure success and livable conditions for themselves somehow impedes on our own. Loud and frighteningly powerful voices are trying to convince us that the world has become an ‘us or them’ environment. I refuse to believe this. It will take the most noble, selfless, and generous aspects of our spirit and dignity to rise above this rhetoric and not tremble and realize that the best thing we can do for our own mutual success is to work towards, or at the very least do nothing to obstruct, the attempts of others to succeed. Don’t be afraid if you happen to catch others leaving the bucket faster than you. You’ll get there also. And maybe even with the helpful claw from the other side.
Man: 183 Loneliness: 32