Crabbers have long known that there is no need to cover a bucket of crabs. They just stay in the bottom of the bucket, not even trying to climb out. And, whenever a crab does start trying to climb out, the others all suddenly start exerting themselves.
To do what? Follow its lead? No. To drag it back down into the bottom of the bucket and keep it from climbing out.
Kinda like a narcissist, right? But actually, it's kinda like most people.
One of the most surprising facts about the human race is the prevalence of mediocrity. The reason this is surprising is because we never hear anyone admit mediocrity. To the contrary, people always portray themselves as working hard and as doing the best job they can.
Every now and then though, we get a myth-busting wake-up call. Like Hurricane Katrina. How could civil servants behave like that at a time like that? Or, what about the FBI before 9/11? The boss "didn't believe in computers," so the FBI didn't have any that weren't dinosaurs more than 10 years old without Internet access. Sheesh! How can flaming, incompetent negligence like that pass for doing a good job?
I got my first inkling of the invisible world of mediocrity that surrounds us in my first job. Unable to get decent sanitation repairs and equipment for a facility I managed, I came home complaining to my mother that the department heads of that city were "just trying to look like they were doing a good job, instead of actually doing one."
I thought that attitude must be rare. But it isn't. It's the rule. When teachers ask other teachers what they teach, the standard answer is "As little as possible." Not what they'd say to you or their principal, is it? Same with the factory worker on the line. Or the doctor. Or the social worker.
Most people have no motivation to put forth more than minimal effort needed to get by. And that goes for their moral life too.
In this, narcissists are no different. They are different in one regard though. Most people avoid standing out as excellent. We are trained by our peers to do this from a young age.
If, for example, you try hard to get good grades in school, the other kids will label you as a "try-harder," the implication being that trying hard is bad. You will get labeled a "brain."
It's not nice to expose the mediocrity of the other crabs in that bucket by excelling, you see. So, instead of trying too, they'd rather just drag you down and discourage your effort.
Those who coach young tennis players aspiring to great things see the same thing. As soon as a player's tremendous dedication and effort start to pay off, his or her peers start in. The great majority cave in to this pressure. Those you see reach the top of the game, like Pete Sampras and Roger Federer, are those brave souls who won't let this pressure control their choices.
Narcissists are different only in that they fake excellence as much as they can. But they too drag others down.
Often they have a reputation for excellence that is ironic, because their work is actually full of cut corners and negligence.
If they can't fake excellence, I don't know whether they would try hard or not. I suppose in that case, to get what they want, they might. But the narcissists I have known all did a lousy job. In fact it would be more correct to say that they just didn't even do their job.
Why bother when appearances are all that count, and you can fake it?