The Crab in the Cool Whip Container (The Dark Side of Empathy)

One of Steve Geske’s stories about the emotional fusion trap:

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to visit relatives in Florida. I found the heat and humidity so oppressive, I’ve never been back. One memory that has endured for me is all the little sand crabs that you can see scurrying around when you walk on the beach. If you are fast enough, and don’t care about pinchers, you can catch one of those little guys. You can put him in a cool whip container and set it out in the hot sun. Go off for a walk for a half hour or so and return. Do you know what you will find in the container? Nothing! Those little suckers are escape artists and always find a way to haul themselves “over the wall” toward freedom. But, and here’s where it gets strange, if you catch three or four of those little guys and put them all in a container in the hot sun, do you know what you find when you get back from your walk? You’ll find three or four dying crabs. Instead of giving each other a leg up and helping each other escape, they are all selfishly clawing to get out and end up repeatedly pulling each other back into their sweltering prison. In a culture where much rhetoric is applied to the importance of family values and togetherness within institutions, it is important to remember the dark side of togetherness.

Yes, togetherness has its place. But if we are not paying attention, togetherness can be come emotional fusion where individuals cease to exist. A kind of “Borg” mentality ensues. The corporate term for this, and it came out of the analysis of the Challenger disaster is “group think.” The truth is, togetherness can hinder growth, development and change. It is a force of the status quo and often times can keep people, families and institutions stuck in behaviors that threaten their health and survival. This togetherness or “fusion” is most powerful during times of increased anxiety. The way it is expressed today is in terms of empathy. (And they say that word as if it is a good thing.)

As important as empathy is in preventing psychopathic behavior, psychopaths are pretty rare in society. Far more common and far more dangerous is emotional fusion which prevents growth. Lacking empathy is a charge leveled at leaders to indict them and call them to greater compassion. However, more than not it is a ploy of the immature who don’t want to be called to grow or change.

People, like our immune system, grow in response to challenge not empathy. Anyone interested in their own growth and the growth of others will be wary of empathy and the forces of togetherness. In times of anxiety and change, remember the cautionary tale of the crabs in the cool whip container. And if you are wise, you will err on the side of challenge rather than empathy. You will be called uncaring. You will be called a traitor. But you will walk away from the prison alive. Peace and

Courage, Steve

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