There have been so many jokes about the “one-upping” habit that I am surprised that it still happens so much these days. There is no doubt it does. I am sure there could be, and perhaps there are, studies on why people feel the need to outdo you even on the smallest of things. Why is this? Why can’t people just enjoy a great story or give a compliment for something and move on? Let’s take a look at this phenomenon.
With boys – at least this the easiest childhood for me to analyze for obvious reasons – it roots back to the who has the better scar. This carries on well into adulthood, but even at early age boys have been loved sharing their big scratches, scrapes, and scars to the amazement of their friends. Getting that big group “Ooooo” or “Ugh, that had hurt” is the reward you seek and generally get. It doesn’t end there though. There is always some kid in the group that has a bigger scar along with the tale of getting it to tell. “That kid” will find some way to one-up you even if it isn’t his own story; he’ll tell of something he saw, heard or more than likely made up just to get the attention of the group to shift to him.
Yep, you guessed it. This same guy carries on with those tendencies even as an adult. The scar and injury tales do continue on, but they are joined by any number of categories of storytelling for the attention and amazement of friends. The basketball stories – or any sport for that matter – including all sorts of amazing plays, hard fouls, and terrible refs. Dating stories, including the horrors as well as the stunning dates that you know he never really had. Fishing stores – remember the one-armed fisherman, his fish was this big. The list goes on.
The one that I experience most these days though is the “well my kid did [insert amazing feat here].” This one I know from personal experience is definitely a problem shared by both genders. My wife and I were just talking the other day about an acquaintance that has the one up condition in a bad way. We all do it to some degree I am sure because we are proud of our kids – or at least we want to be – and we love to share the fun or amazing little things they do. One-upping is not limited to the good things, of course, it comes out in full force with what the little terrors can do when they are at their worst. No matter how extreme you think your anecdotal may be, Mr (or Ms) one-upper is going to have something more extreme.
I have mentioned Brian Regan here before on this site, one of my favorite comedians because of his real-life, clean and original comedy. In his latest DVD, titled I Walked on the Moon, the headliner story is saved all the way to the end of the routine. Brian’s comedy is a half concept and half presentation, so knowing the punch-line won’t ruin it for you. The short version is wouldn’t it be great if you were one of the astronauts that walked on the moon. Noone could top you in the one-up conversations. You can just sit back with a smug smile on your face and enjoy the conversation until it has hit is the peak. Then pull out your big whammy. “Well, I walked on the moon.” Top that one-upper.
I am never quite sure when I identify what is going on when a one-upper changes the direction of a conversation. Usually, I just choose not to feed the animals. Let them have the attention they so obviously crave and move on. I typically check out the rest of the group – if it happens to be a group conversation – to see if others are aware of what is happening as well. It is gratifying when you get that knowing smirk, a slight nod or wink back; you know you are not alone.
Of course, if you are really brave, and have a good enough relationship with the one-upper (or could care less) you can have fun in these situations. Escalate the one-upping to unreasonable proportions and see how far they will follow. Now to pull this off you can’t do it all at once, or the gig is up. You have to do it gradually, upping the ante just a bit with each story. You also need to be a bit creative to make up good stories on the spot, and a good dose of being able to lie helps too. Eventually even the most hardened of one-uppers will figure out they’ve been had and will either scoff and try to shrug it off, be offended or the good at heart ones will laugh and realize the jokes on them.
So next time you’re in a one-up situation, just think “I walked on the moon.” Big picture, this isn’t competition if you don’t make it one. Unless you really have to have that spotlight shone directly on you, let the one-upper have their space or have a little fun with them. The choice is up to you.