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COVID-19, Crab Buckets, and Rule 303

I'm no expert on psychology, but I have been taking a course related to it. One interesting point from there is that the human mind's ability to develop feelings of happiness, contentedness, well-being, etc. is driven to a significant degree by comparison of their standing to other people. In other words, a person will tend to feel happier when they're doing better than the people around them and vice versa. It's possible to condition the mind out of that, but that's where we start out by nature.

There are a couple of other effects related to this natural process. Firstly, since electronic communication is such a new thing in the scale of human existence, our subconscious minds lack the ability to distinguish between different sources of input when it comes to this sort of social comparison. Whether looking at an immediate family member, a celebrity on TV, or someone posting on social media, the subconscious mind processes it all in basically the same way. This is part of why spending time on social media tends to make people feel worse about themselves (since posts tend to focus on notable moments instead of common drudgery).

Secondly, for the majority of people, the subconscious drive to be elevated over those around them is stronger than the drive to elevate themselves. To put those words into practice, one study showed that a majority of people would prefer to have less actual income, vacation time, etc. if it meant that they'd have more relative income, vacation time, etc. Those results have been confirmed in other studies. I call this the "crab bucket" effect, largely thanks to "crabs in a barrel" scene from Romeo Must Die.

In this time of stress, uncertainty, and general crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people are prone to falling back on their instincts. It may be instinctual to lash out, whether at the people living around us or at strangers on the Internet. It certainly seems like I've seen more hate and vitriol spewed in the little bits of social media that I expose myself to lately, but I haven't done any concerted examination of that.

If you feel that urge, I'd suggest taking a moment to think of the crab bucket. Venting anger and frustration is often better than repressing it, but doing so in a purely destructive manner just to make yourself feel a little better that you took someone else down a peg rarely does anything to actually improve your situation.

Instead, when you recognize a crab bucket urge, I'd suggest taking a cue from Beau of the Fifth Column and trying to enact Rule 303 instead (Beau suggests posting about it on social media with a #Rule303 tag, which I'll mention here to pass on the message). Rather than taking someone down, look at what you can do to lift someone up. It doesn't matter whether it's the same person or someone unrelated. If that's being too altruist for your sensibilities in and of itself, try thinking of it as investing good favor in others so that they're more likely to help you out when you need it.

Ultimately, your motivation for the act really doesn't matter; the effects do. Taking a negative moment and expressing it instead as a positive effect makes the world a better place, and whatever other personal goals and ambitions you may have, I think most people would want to leave a good mark on the world. The way to accomplish that is by making it happen. It doesn't have to be anything big. Just take something that you have the means of doing, and do it. Little by little, those things will add up.

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