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The Crab Bucket

When you set a lofty goal or a target, and you’re Irish, that naturally means you’re the target of ridicule or the “who does he think he is” attitude that is prevalent in the irish psyche. It is often said that we are a nation of begrudgers, but I don’t agree with that necessarily. I think there’s a begrudging element to our society, but that we can also row in behind one of our own when we see they’re succeeding. For example when I wrote about my goal to get my BJJ black belt in 3 years time, there will have been probably 1/3 reading it thinking how great a goal that is, 1/3 who didn’t care one way or the other, and 1/3 who went to their mates and scoffed at the notion. I’m not saying that’s an accurate representation of what actually did happen by the way, I’m just using a close to home example.

I can’t remember which Terry Pratchett book it’s in (I’ve read them all and can never remember which quote is from where!), but he refers to the attitude of a poor area of Ankh Morpork called Dolly Sister’s as being like that of a Crab Bucket. When one crab tries to climb out of the fisherman’s bucket, the others drag him back in. I always think of that when I hear people scoffing at people’s achievements in business and sports. It’s a sort of a “who does he think he is” attitude that I don’t see in my foreign friends. I catch myself doing it sometimes.

Maybe it’s a symptom of our poverty. Ireland has a long history of hardship that perhaps has affected our confidence to such a degree that we still feel that having one of our own do well leaves us in the bucket while they climb out. I’m obsessed with The Sopranos at the moment, and the Irish attitude to success and ambition does have a parallel with Livia, Tony Soprano’s unfeeling mother who even when receiving a gift tries to express her disappointment in the quality or brand, or more comically, Homer Simpson’s attitude to buying a matter-transporter from Professor Frink for $2- “Hmmm, and it only transports matter…”

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not advocating positivity for positivity’s sake. I find dumb back slapping for the sake of it stupid. Likewise, I think celebration of mediocrity just cultivates more mediocrity. And I think social media has lead to a great deal of self-praise that to me just does a disservice to the person doing the praising. However there does seem to be a cultural meme particular to Ireland that leads us to say things like “who does he think he is?” or “Ah yes but how many were in his division?” when we hear of stories of success. I wonder what it would take to wipe it out?


One thought on “The Crab Bucket

  1. hmm I wonder about that. I think you’re certainly right about people having a negative attitude to peers who do well. It’s not specifically Irish though, I first read about ‘Tall Poppy syndrome’ in American workplace literature.

    I don’t kow why we characterise it as an Irish thing so often. Maybe it is more prevlaent here than in other countries. Maybe we just like to think that we’re more complex and unique than we really are.

    While ‘fuck the begrudgers’ is often a legitmate response to shitty behaviour it seems to me that it is sometimes wheeled out as a deflection of legitimate, though crude criticism. So if Bono, Bill Cullen or that spawn of Satan Gerarld Keane are called arrogant, egotistical wankers or ‘Spawn of Satan’ they moan about begrudgery which is code for ‘I’m fantastic, if you don’t agree it’s because you’re jealous’.

    Which reminds me of this image

    Posted by Padraic | May 17, 2013, 1:35 pm

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