Chris Lewis
Chris Lewis

The Crab Bucket Mentality and The Fountainhead

Anyone familiar with the behaviour of a bunch of crabs trapped at the bottom of a bucket will know what happens when one of them tries to climb to the top; instead of attempting the climb themselves, those left at the bottom of the bucket will do all in their collective power to drag the climber back down. And although crab behaviour should not in any way be analogous to human behaviour, I can think of many instances where it is.

Take what is commonly called "The Tall Poppy Syndrome." This is where anyone who is brazen enough to strive for success — or, god forbid, to achieve it — immediately becomes a target for the "crab bucket mentalities" who, rather than strive for success themselves, derive enormous pleasure from attempting to cut the tall poppy back down.

As a tennis coach running a comprehensive junior & senior development programme for Auckland Tennis Inc., it is my job to produce future tennis champions. Among other things, this involves demanding the maximum amount of effort from every player with whom I work. If a player is to become the best he can be, he must dedicate himself from a relatively early age to the single-minded pursuit of his tennis career. Along the way many obstacles & barriers will be put in his path. One such obstacle, which brings me to the point of my article, is the tremendous amount of negative peer pressure that is brought to bear on anyone who attempts to climb life's peaks by those who have defaulted on the climb.

And whether those peaks represent success on the sporting field, in the business world, in the academic arena, or in any other realm of life, including life itself, there will always be those who give up on their quest to climb life's mountains, and instead choose to remain at the bottom of life's bucket — which would be fine, as long as they didn't then devote their destructive efforts, like the crabs, to pulling the climbers back down.

Consider for a moment the following three scenarios, & ask yourself how you would react in each situation. Then ask yourself if each situation has a ring of familiarity to it.

1) You attempt to do well in exams; however, one of your low-achieving peers tells you not to study but to enjoy yourself. Do you continue to bury your head in the books? Or do you get mindlessly drunk at that night's party?

2) You have done really well in your exams, but another one of your less successful peers accuses you of being a "try-hard" — the implication being that effort is bad & non-effort is good. Do you ignore him? Or, next time, do you take pains to show him that you do not try hard?

3) You conclude that taking drugs is harmful — anti-life — but your friends tell you that to refrain from smoking dope is incredibly "uncool." Do you light up? Or do you keep your own company until you find some new friends?

When these three typical teenage scenarios & their accompanying questions are reduced to a single philosophical question — a question of principle — it should become clear to you that your answer has serious implications for the way you choose to conduct your life.

That question is: in the face of pressure from your peers, do you act to pursue your chosen values? Or do you reject them & embrace the non- or anti-values that others have prescribed in their place? In other words, do you run your own life by selecting, then scaling, your own mountain peaks? Or, by letting others run your life for you, do you default on the climb?

Did Christopher Columbus listen when everyone told him he would sail over the edge of the earth? Did Henry Ford listen when everyone told him that attempting to replace the horse & cart with the automobile was a futility? Did the Wright Brothers listen when everyone told them that building a "flying machine" was impossible? No, they did not. They did not — because they refused to consider the opinions of others above the conclusions they had reached with their own minds — conclusions they were not prepared to sacrifice in order to satisfy the mediocrities who exhorted them to give up.

It is heroic role models like these who have demonstrated that no matter what obstacles are put in your path, whether those obstacles be the exertion of negative peer pressure designed to drag you down or the masses telling you that attempting to build a "flying machine" is absurd, achieving your goals is possible.

And in a world where the predominant trend is toward anti-achievement & anti-success, motivational fuel is something that we all need from time to time to propel us toward our goals. Which is why I would like to commend to your attention a book that provided me with a tremendous amount of motivational fuel very early on in my tennis career.

The book is entitled The Fountainhead, by the Russian/American novelist Ayn Rand. In the introduction to her book, she tells us, "Some give up at the first touch of pressure; some sell out; some run down by imperceptible degrees & lose their fire, never knowing when or how they lost it ... Yet a few hold on & move on, knowing that that fire is not to be betrayed, learning how to give it shape, purpose & reality. But whatever their future, at the dawn of their lives, men seek a noble vision of man's nature & of life's potential. There are very few guideposts to find. The Fountainhead is one of them."

At a time when, as a seventeen-year-old, I was just setting out to conquer the tennis courts around the world, an attempt that demanded excellence & achievement every step of the way, it was The Fountainhead that helped to inspire me in the face of discouragement from the "crab bucket mentalities" who told me I was wasting my time.

For anyone who believes in the importance of achieving his or her values & goals, who believes that happiness is the end result of such achievement, & that happiness is the norm when independence, in thought & action is promoted, encouraged & pursued, The Fountainhead comes with my highest recommendation.


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