Gangs…and crab mentality


Just do a quick internet search, or pick up the local Slavadoran paper and you will find that violence and gang control are a constant struggle here in El Salvador, and in the past several months, with the new administration’s crack down, we have seen a spike in violent crime.

Now, the proposed solutions are wide spread, ex-mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliana has proposed a plan for implementation, the papers are filled with ideas, costs and options.  And, then the causes: the civil war of the 80’s & 90’s, the influence of L.A. gangs on immigrants, poverty, class separation, deportation, police and government corruption…the list of causes goes on.

These are valid causes, and all play their part, but as an outsider I have seen another cause, a deeper cause, and one that may even have ramifications for the church, and me…and you.  What is it?  Crab mentality.

One of our Bible school teachers sat with me at breakfast during camp and explained how there is a Salvadoran immigrant who is now working for NASA in the U.S. and this has become incredible news.  He didn’t share this with me to brag, but rather the opposite.  He said that when a Salvadoran succeeds, it is huge news, not because few do, but because, as he said, (translated of course) “We can’t believe that a Salvadoran can be successful, unless they leave the country…” or something greater happens, an act of God, extreme windfall of money, etc.

I shared this with a visiting pastor and he said, this is “crab mentality.”  What is that, simply put, in wikipedia terms:

Crab mentality, sometimes referred to as crabs in the bucket, is a phrase that describes a way of thinking best described by the phrase “if I can’t have it, neither can you.” The metaphor refers to a pot of crabs. Individually, the crabs could easily escape from the pot, but instead, they grab at each other in a useless “king of the hill” competition which prevents any from escaping and ensures their collective demise.  and more technically, This term is broadly associated with short-sighted, non-constructive thinking rather than a unified, long-term, constructive mentality.

So what does this have to do with gangs, the church, with you or me?  Everything.  The gangs inflict “rent” basically extortion, on businesses, buses, individuals primarily in the poor communities.  And if this isn’t paid, they respond with violence, and violence that is not fitting for the crime.  Because of the class separation, and poverty supposedly, they take what they want, but effectively create a tax on the poor and in the process develop a fear in communities that causes people to leave under wrong conditions, close businesses, leave homes, or to succumb to the gang mentality.  It creates anger, bitterness, and a fear that keeps visionary leadership from arising.  The crabs stay in the pot as the water gets hotter and all boil together.  And here, the analogy breaks down slightly, because some do eventually leave, and others achieve the king of the hill status, at the expense of the others.

And what about us, the civilized, the church going, God fearing citizenry.  In our context, this climb to the top creates titles, positions of honor and prestige, titles such as “Pastor,” “Apostle” or “Elder” which can be misused.  Those that do find a way out of the poverty trap, have to work so hard, that the desire to help others rarely remains once the climb is made to freedom.

And how does this relate to our work in churches;  I have been constantly taken back to Ephesians 4:11-12 “And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”  You see, the king of the hill is actually at the bottom.

Because it is the title of this blog, I am going to keep this crab metaphor and stretch it to make it work.  What are church leaders, parents, pastors, government officials, business owners, basically any type of community leader to do?

We are to learn to tread water…when the heat turns on, we don’t climb up at the expense of others, but we dive down.  We get under the other crabs and begin to push until all have crawled out of the pot to safety.  How do we do that?..tune in next time and we will look for some practical ways to get the other crabs out of the pot.

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