Of Frogs and Crabs: A Parable on Choosing Friends

This is a re-post from a blog I wrote elsewhere a long time ago. It is one of my favorite modern parables and it doesn’t matter how old you are, you have to deal with frogs and crabs. Make good decisions and set good boundaries whenever possible!

There are few things more troubling to a parent than to see their young person fall into friendships with people that bring them down, tempt them to energy draining choices, or confuse their self-worth and self-image. The following is a very useful parable on friendship, one that my own father taught me, that can inspire young and not so young to look carefully at the company we keep. May you always choose your friends with care!

Imagine for a moment that you are looking at two buckets. One bucket has a bunch of crabs in it. The other one has a bunch of frogs. These two buckets represent our daily struggle and the creatures inside represent the people we surround ourselves with.

Now, if you put a bunch of crabs in a bucket you will notice something interesting about their behavior. Like any other creature that finds itself in this predicament, the crabs want to get out of the bucket. Yet as a crab reaches for the top and begins to pull itself to freedom – to success, another crab will grab its leg and pull it back down.

For contrast, let’s go look at the bucket of frogs. Just like the crabs, the frogs all want to get out of the bucket. Unlike the crabs, they are happy to help their fellow frogs escape and will pile themselves up to help one another get out of the bucket.

Friends, coworkers, bosses, neighbors, really anyone you know, fits into the mindset of either the crab or the frog. They are either delighted to help see you to success or want to keep you at their own level (or, in deed, below it). We hear this kind of talk from people all the time. Can you identify the frog language from the crab language? Crabs: “What, are you too good for us?” “You can’t do that. Stop trying so hard.” “You don’t have the resources (money, smarts, education, experience) to do what you want to do.” “Forget about that deadline, come hang out instead.” Frogs: “Hey, great job!” “How did you do that? That was great!” “How can I help you (get to your goal)?” “How can we help each other?”

One mindset is based upon abundant living and happily sharing resources, inadvertently creating new resources. The other is based on a mindset of scarcity and hoards resources, believing that if you have it – I don’t. Which bucket would you rather be in? Choose your friends well.

But there is another truth to this analogy. You must choose whether you want to be a frog or a crab and live into that mindset. Frogs will not tolerate a crab in their midst for very long. They will eventually hop away.

And there’s more. Our habitat evolves us – so choose it well. When we associate ourselves with crabs, we will eventually become more crablike. The same thing will happen if we associate with frogs, just make sure that you are trying really hard to become one.

If you are in a bucket of crabs but want out, it isn’t a bad idea to get some outside help. Find someone helpful (parent, counselor, coach, etc.) to give you a lift. It really does make all the difference.

OK, I’ve got great friends, but what if my family is really just a bunch of crabs? Well, that’s a whole ‘nother bag of worms.

Rachel Fraumann

My personal mission is to translate the life and teachings of Jesus to the next generation of peace and justice seekers in and around Burlington Vermont. I’m always up for a friendly argument, a free hug, or to be available as a compassionate ear or shoulder to cry upon. I have an insatiable curiosity for ideas and love to talk about theology, religion, politics, science, or whatever is on your mind. My current passion is about peeling back the centuries of church tradition in order to find the root of our faith in the teachings and ministries of Jesus so that it can be put into practice. After fifteen years of professional ministry with young people I still love watching a newly empowered Child of God set out to change the world!