A familiar concept to us Filipinos is the utak-talangka, or crab mentality. Explaining it in the simplest terms possible, I define it as the “if I can’t have it, neither can you” kind of mindset. Take crabs in a pot. In order to avoid that one of them escape from the pot, they all pull each other down, and as a result they all die a collective (and usually delicious for humans) death. Getting hungry?
To give a real world example of crab mentality, let’s say your boss is considering promoting your teammate because of his outstanding work. If you are asked for feedback and what you do is badmouth your teammate simply because you’re green with envy, then that is crab mentality.
Filipinos have the tendency to cry crab mentality whenever one of us criticizes an attempt by another to do a “good” thing. Need an example? Just try to remember the “It’s more fun in the Philippines” slogan. Personally, asking people to fill in the blanks for you using crowdsourcing is asking for trouble, but that’s another story.
I think the way many Filipinos cry crab mentality when we criticize each other, our “idols”, or our government officials is misguided. In fact, it’s actually the wrong usage. I am inclined to think that they’re confusing being crabby with crab mentality, but that’s not even accurate. The way they do it, I see it as a defense mechanism for the Filipino whose sense of entitlement is inborn. Part of this sense of entitlement is that he can do no wrong in his own eyes. Hide your insecurities by making someone else look bad, usually envious or “inggit”. That is the sign of a mature person for you right there.
Perhaps there is another quality to the crab that we’re overlooking. Crabs’ shells are tough. You won’t be able to get at the meat unless you use crack the shell with some sort of object. In comparison, many Filipinos often insulate themselves from criticism. Take your pick as to how they do it. They surround themselves with yes men/attack dogs. They display their credentials for the world to see, and assume it will shut everyone up. Or, they simply pretend they heard nothing.
It is no secret that you cannot agree with everybody. You will always find at least one or two persons in any group you interact with who will not necessarily agree with everything you say. Why is this such a difficult thing to grasp for us Filipinos?
Criticism and healthy exchange of different points of view are important because other people will definitely know things you may not. One of the keys to uplifting awareness of people to issues is to emphasize the shaping of well-informed opinions.
If all we did here at GRP and other critical voice blogs was disparage every one else and say nothing but “The Filipino is mediocre and stupid, and he will never improve”, then perhaps we could be considered as crabs. But that’s not our style. First and foremost, we bring awareness to people that there exists a problem in the first place. We don’t beat around the bush nor do we sugarcoat; that defeats the purpose. Thus, you could consider us the blunt object or nutcracker. Second, we also propose solutions where appropriate. So we’re not just all talk. We may walk a fine line between critic and crab, but we never cross it.
How do we know, then, when a line has been crossed from being a critic to being a crab? There are two sides to this: the person criticizing, and the one being criticized.
As a recipient of criticism, all it takes is an open and discerning mind. You don’t have to believe everything you hear; the most important part is that you don’t succumb to the balat-sibuyas tendencies which Filipinos are so famous the world over for. It is not always a personal attack. It definitely doesn’t have to be about losing face or losing an argument, either.
A piece of criticism can be considered a mirror. It reflects at you an image, though it may not be what you want to see:
“Why does a mirror reverse left and right but not up and down? But it does not reverse at all; it merely reflects what is in front of it. The confusion lies with the viewer.”
Look at the message, not the messenger.
Being a good critic, on the other hand, is merely the other side of being criticized. How do you quantify or even qualify it? While choosing our words carefully is of utmost importance, sincerity I believe is the defining trait. I believe constructive critics are sincere in wanting their target to improve.
We contrast this with critics who simply point out everything that’s wrong with everything else just because it makes them feel good about themselves, or because “no one can be better than them”. We call them nitpickers, fault-finders, or in the vernacular, mga pintasero. These are the crabs to watch out for; they snap.
The journey towards our maturity as a nation is a thousand mile one. Being mature about evaluating ourselves is one single step that needs to be taken. It goes a long way. If we can’t even admit to ourselves that more often than not, we need a good fixing-up, or douse of cold water, then we deserve to forever occupy the pothole we’re currently in.