Friday, August 14, 2020

One-Upmanship - Let It Go

🏆 In 1952 Stephen Potter (1900 -1969) published the infamous guides to Lifemanship and specifically One-upmanship.

On holiday with a friend, we played several rounds of backgammon in the hotel lounge and I won. "You're very competitive," she observed, "I never realised that about you before." Say it with a smile and it's not an insult right? She lost at backgammon that night but she won at life.

Another time a friend was telling me about a wonderful place she'd visited on her travels. It was the most spectacular scenery in the world. She ended her description with, "I don't care how many pictures or videos people see, you cannot understand the full beauty of it unless you've been there." What is there left to say after that? You've been to better places than boring old me so you win?

Lifemanship is making yourself appear more accomplished or knowledgeable, or the better person. It's chatting with an accomplished writer and saying that you plan to write novels when you retire. It's following a story about a walking holiday in the Lake District with, "When I went hiking in the Himalayas..."

It's basically disrespect for the knowledge and experiences of others.

One-upmanship is altogether more sinister. A back-handed compliment but more nuanced. Use it clumsily and you look mean. However, with some practice it can be honed into an art form. By all means use One-upmanship on your enemies, your adversaries, or your competitors. Be aware that you'll still look mean and people will hate you for it, they just won't be able to pin anything on you.

"One-upmanship is making the other man feel that something has gone wrong ever so slightly" (Stephen Potter). It's leaving the other with a slight feeling of discomfort. You can't argue with One-upmanship. "What do you mean? I gave her a compliment!"

It's meeting an older friend for coffee and saying, "How lovely to see you out and about and looking so well."

Another example I read once, went like this: You invite guests for dinner and you've obviously spent much time and effort cooking a lavish selection of dishes and desserts. One guest compliments you with, "Thank you so much for tonight, it was a lovely evening. The mayonnaise was delicious. I would love the recipe. I can't stop thinking about how good it was. You are clever."

Or the parting that ends with, "I've really enjoyed meeting you and spending time with you. I hope you find what you're looking for in life." (What? I'm concerned about you.)

Have you ever been One-upped? What do you do? You smile to yourself and remember that One-upmanship is the tool of the insecure. It's used by people who feel that: "if you're not one-up, you're one-down" (Rilke). Feel sorry for the habitual One-upman but never confront him. He'll pretend  not to understand why you're upset. If he needs to always feel superior he's not going to apologise, is he? Let it go. And you can feel a little superior if you like, because of your maturity and stronger sense of self.