Why do so many people feel that life is a competition between one another? This is often reflected in the conversations some people have. Let me give some examples:
You might happen to say to someone, “I’ve been sober for a little over 2 years,” and the other person might respond with, “Well I’ve been sober for 12 years.” Who cares? Does the length of time make one person more sober (or better) than the other? Or you might mention your bottom point and another person will say, “You think you were a bad drunk, well let me tell you what I did!” Again, who cares? This isn’t a contest of who can be sober longer or who was a worse drunk.
These competitive conversations aren’t strictly limited to substance misuse (or various group meetings). Almost any subject you bring up in conversation, another person wants to mention that “they have one more than you, outdid you or already have that.” I sit back and listen as people compete in conversations. I don’t believe they’re even conscious that they’re doing it.
Some people believe that this is a sign of low self-esteem, but I believe that it’s normal human nature to present importance of self to others. This is done by “one-upping” the other person through pointing out how wonderful you are and how good you have it. If you can’t outdo the other person with your accomplishments or your acquisitions, you can always point out how awful and miserable your life is compared to theirs. Even when being dismal you can still participate in one-upmanship.
People also like to get the spotlight pointed towards themselves by pissing in your well. For instance, you go buy a Triumph motorcycle and someone else says, “Aw, Triumph is a piece of shit. You should have bought a (name any other brand).” Or, “why did you get a red one? You should have got a blue one.” “Why did you go to Italy? You should have gone to France.” Notice how you don’t feel good when people say shit like that to you? I typically respond with, “Hey, I have an idea. Why don’t you go fuck yourself!”
I also find it interesting that when you do have something good to share, some people will act like they’re happy for you, but then suddenly turn sour. “Oh sure, if I had your (insert anything) I could do that too.” Again I say, “Hey, go fuck yourself.” The other person has no idea what struggles you may have gone through, how hard you had to work or what you sacrificed to accomplish what you just told them about.
But all this “one-upping” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. By sharing mutual experiences (be they good or bad) and by sharing accomplishments, this builds commonality between people and creates a bond between them. I’m sure none of us has ever sat in a bar and got into a conversation with a complete stranger and within minutes felt a bond of commonality as we commiserated about our problems. The sharing of stories and experiences isn’t bad. What’s bad is trying to take the joy away from someone else by one-upping them or criticizing them in conversation. It doesn’t have to be that way if you pay attention to your own words and how you deliver your words.
You can share your own stories in return and do it without stealing someone else’s spotlight. You could say, “Wow that’s really great. I had something similar to that happen to me, but not as good as what happened to you,” and then tell your story. If you’ve had a bad experience with a certain brand or prefer a different color—keep it to yourself. I’m sure you don’t like being interrupted and told, “Oh, you should have…” You don’t have to dole out false flattery but you also don’t have to piss in someone’s well.
I know that I give many stories and examples from my own life. I share a lot of things on Facebook and other social media. My purpose isn’t to say, “Hey, look at me. Look what I did.” My purpose is to share and show that an average former drunk and drug addict CAN turn their life around and that you CAN accomplish and experience some mighty wonderful things in life. I also make it a point to ask you to share some of your success stories in return. I want my posts and conversations to be engaging for both us.
While writing this article I began to grow curious as to why I am drawn towards some people and why I ebb away from others. I thought about the people I’m drawn to and I noticed that it’s because they aren’t blowhards and the conversations are mutually engaging. I then decided to interview some of these people. I wanted to know if they consciously worked at being engaging and non-competitive in conversations, was this a natural trait and were they even aware of the trait that they have?
I talked with quite a few of my friends. What they all had in common was humility. They also weren’t completely aware that they were so pleasant. But when I asked them whether they knew any blowhards or had an idea of what I was talking about they all said, “Oh yeah.” They could all think of people who always monopolize a conversation or always have to one-up anyone else involved in a conversation.
Two of my friends in particular were able to nicely articulate why they purposely attempt to be engaging in conversation and try their best to avoid one-upmanship. I’ll call them Jerry and Joyce just for the sake of giving them names. I also wanted to give a perspective from each gender.
Here’s what Joyce had to say about the subject: “I know some people who I dread answering my phone when I see it’s them calling. All they’re going to do is talk about all the great things their kids have done, what they just bought and how wonderful their life is. If I ever get a chance to talk, they have a better story to interrupt with. Then there are others who are just going to ramble on about all the same problems they’ve been rambling on about for years. I don’t want to be like that person. They’re not fun to talk to or be around. I want to talk to and be around people I enjoy and who make me laugh.”
Here’s what Jerry had to say: “I guess it’s because my parents taught me to be humble. My dad always told me that no matter how good I was at something there’s always somebody else who can do it better. He didn’t say it to criticize me or belittle me. It helps with my humility.”
Jerry and Joyce are genuinely fun and engaging people to be around because they don’t mind letting others have the spotlight. That’s the reason I like hanging out with them. And Jerry’s dad was right. The fact is that there will always be someone better, faster, smarter, prettier, stronger, richer and luckier than you. You can be proud of yourself and your accomplishments. (Hell, I’m pretty arrogant about some of the things I’ve done. I always say, “It’s not bragging if it’s true, but you don’t have to belabor the point.”) But you can also be humble in your pride.
What does all this have to do with sobriety? I believe that it’s part of your growth and evolution of becoming a fun person to be around. And I think that’s especially important for a non-drinker.
Why not genuinely be happy for someone? Why not listen to their story, and if you’re envious, ask how they did it and learn from them. Even if you have done something better or for longer than the other person, let the spotlight shine on them. That’s true support, fellowship and friendship. Don’t compete in conversations. Don’t be the person that everybody wants to avoid.
These are my own opinions and observations. Think for yourself and come to your own conclusions. If you enjoy this stuff or get something out of it please tell your friends about my website. It’s LivingSoberSucks.com. If you like what I do and what I write about, you can help me pay for all this by making a donation to my site, it’s done securely through PayPal: http://www.livingsobersucks.com/donate_to_this_site Donations are NOT tax deductible. Thanks for spending some of your very valuable time with me. Mark Tuschel