Of course, I did it better

Have you taken part in one-upmanship? It’s the art of maintaining a psychological advantage over someone.
Last Updated 27 October 2018, 19:30 IST

It’s hardly surprising that one-upmanship comes naturally to most of us. In fact, many excel at this form of upstaging others and making what they’ve done or achieved seem trivial in comparison to what you’ve accomplished.

In essence, it’s the art of maintaining a psychological advantage over someone by belittling his or her achievements and highlighting one’s own.

One-upmanship is a morale booster for its practitioners who seldom lose an opportunity to air what they perceive as their exploits, much to your discomfiture. For instance, during the office tea-break, you casually mention that during your recent holiday in Nepal you spent a few days climbing the Himalayan foothills. And the well-heeled braggart in the group is likely to take the wind out of your sails with this retort: “How disappointing! Know what I did? I joined some friends in a chartered flight over Mount Everest — what a fantastic sight!”

Or, you wear your newly tailored suit to dinner at the club, hoping others will notice it. A friend, also sporting a brand new suit, accosts you. “New suit, eh? Where did you get it stitched?” You naively mention the name of a well-known outfitter and commit the folly of asking, “Who stitched yours?” “I’m afraid you wouldn’t know him,” he responds nonchalantly. “He’s a real wizard patronised by the likes of Mukesh and Anil Ambani.”

Or, you go into raptures over your secretary’s shorthand skills, praising her to the skies for her speed and precision in preparing your correspondence. Your colleague hears you out patiently and then deflates you with this rejoinder. “Shorthand? That’s old-fashioned!” “My secretary’s far more modern. She commits everything I dictate to her phenomenally retentive memory and reproduces it on her PC verbatim. Wouldn’t trade her for a pot of gold!”

Or, to beat the heat, you have your head shaved on an impulse and go home looking like a skinhead, who no one recognises at first. You mention the incident to a pal who promptly outshines you with: “Oh, that’s nothing compared to what happened to me. A few months back, I tonsured my skull before going to the Film & Television Institute of India at Pune for an audition — and director Anupam Kher mistook me for his long-lost twin brother and grabbed me in a bear hug.”

The world of sport, of course, offers plenty of scope for one-upmanship. A big-game hunter may brag, “We went on a crocodile shoot in Tanzania and bagged no less than six gigantic brutes.” “Shooting crocs? Uh, how unsporting!” a veteran may sneer. “In my day, risking life and limb, we got as close as we could to the muggers and harpooned them — nothing could be more thrilling.”

Or, jubilant over having caught a decent-sized fish at last, an excited angler may ask another, “Do you often take home a fish as big as this?” And the smart alec — a hardened exponent of the art of one-upmanship — replies, “Nope, I always toss the small ones back into the water.”

Quintessentially, one-upmanship is the knack of underplaying others’ achievements — often maliciously, and to your advantage.

(Published 27 October 2018, 19:30 IST)

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