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Outhumbling Each Other

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Sheldon: Howard, that's quite a gesture on your part. Showing yourself to be the bigger man.
Howard: Thank you.
Sheldon: Which I find totally unacceptable. I must be the bigger man.

This trope describes the situation when Alice and Bob are having an argument and each one decides to be "the better person" by backing down and letting the other win. Then they start arguing again about who will be allowed to give in.

The humor, of course, is that Bob and Alice are being childish and petty in the same moment that they think they're proving their maturity.

When this happens expect lots of Passive Aggressive Combat. May also involve a Gift of the Magi Plot if the two characters are arguing over who should get the other their gift. Compare with the Abilene Paradox, where characters try to let the other have their way, and wind up choosing something that neither side wants. It can also take the form of dueling Compliment Fishing ("No, you're really good, much better than me!"). Compare More Hero than Thou, Overly Polite Pals, Politeness Judo, or Subterfuge Judo. Sister Trope to Misery Poker.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The 100 Girlfriends Who Really, Really, Really, Really, Really Love You: When pondering how to help Shizuka integrate into the group with himself, Hakari, and Karane, Rentaro has an internal monologue about how it's easier to open up to someone who has seen your inner, most emotional self. This is presented as two salarymen having a knock down, drag out brawl and becoming friends after seeing the other as a Worthy Opponent. The event that preceded the fight was the two of them each attempting to hand their business cards to one another at a lower height than the other and escalating from there.
  • Date A Live: The competitive "splinters"/twins Kaguya and Yuzura call each other out on arrogance and get violent again instead of waiting on the "duel" outcome when they find out that they both have secretly asked Shidou to actually choose the other one of the two as the winner (Shidou is agreed to be the tie-breaking judge as well as the target of novel-for-the-two duel in womanly charms). The said winner is to get to solely inherit the Yamai spirit identity and keep on living while the loser is to cease to exist.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Big Bird in Japan, when Big Bird meets the grandparents of the Shimizu family, they take turns bowing formally to each other, each bow deeper than the last to show increased respect and humility. Big Bird concludes by falling flat on his face! Everyone breaks up laughing and the father remarks, "I wish my daughters could bow as well as you!"

  • In Children of the Mind, Wang Mu and Peter visit a philosopher who insists that he knows less than any man. Wang Mu insists that she knows even less, and this kicks off a painfully polite contest to see who could be more humble and teachable. Wang Mu finally wins and senses him backing off... only to realize that by silently conceding defeat, he'd proven himself the humblest.
  • Discussed in The Screwtape Letters, Letter 26. Senior tempter Screwtape calls this scenario "the Generous Conflict Illusion", and says that it's an excellent way to make humans act selfishly but convince themselves they're being generous.
    You see how it is done? If each side had been frankly contending for its own real wish, they would all have kept within the bounds of reason and courtesy; but just because the contention is reversed and each side is fighting the other side's battles, all the bitterness which really flows from thwarted self-righteousness and obstinacy and the accumulated grudges of the last ten years is concealed from them by the nominal or official "Unselfishness" of what they are doing...
  • In The Stormlight Archive, this is the correct way to negotiate with Shin merchants. In one scene, a Shin livestock merchant keeps telling his trading partner how dirt cheap he got the chickens he's selling and expresses awe at the Thaylen merchant's unmined metalnote , while the Thaylen tells him that the chickens are a lucrative niche product and the metal was basically classroom detritus produced by Soulcaster apprentices practicing.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Big Bang Theory: After an argument between Sheldon & Howard over a parking spot, Howard comes over to apologize and let Sheldon have the spot. Sheldon, annoyed Howard is trying to be the bigger man, decides to let him have it instead and demands Howard acknowledge him as the bigger man.
  • Dead Ringers: A sketch in series 1 has the then-heads of Britain's Labour and Conservative parties get into a confrontation after an unspecified incident occurs over who is more appalled by the deeply unpleasant thing. They only stop when it's discovered to have happened "a long way away" and no Westerners were involved.
  • In Father Ted, Mrs. Doyle goes for tea with her friend Mrs. Donne. Afterwards, both women insist on picking up the check, with the conflict escalating to a physical fight. In the end, neither of them pays because the management calls the police on them. Then they start insisting they will pay the bail for the other and almost come to blows again.
  • Frasier, the titular character is feuding with his Sitcom Archnemesis Cam Winston. When they think their parents have begun dating, Frasier decides to bury the hatchet and call a truce, only for his phone to ring: Cam had the same idea. Frasier feigns a bad signal as a pretense to hang up, furious that "that son-of-a-bitch is trying to steal my high ground!"
    • Naturally, given their Sibling Rivalry, Frasier and Niles often fall into this trap when trying to be the bigger man and ending the latest spat they've gotten themselves into. One particular public humiliation in court due to this results in the following exchange:
      Frasier: Oh, don't worry about it. I humiliated myself far more than you did today.
      Niles: Obviously, you didn't see the way I was whoring after that TV camera.
      Frasier: Obviously, you didn't see how I was tap dancing up there like an organ grinder's monkey.
      Niles: Yes, well, I might as well have been tarred and feathered.
      Frasier: I might as well have been pilloried in the town square.
      Niles: I might as well have been stripped naked and forced to—
      Frasier: [Impatiently] Oh, stop it, Niles! We're doing it again!
    • In another episode, Frasier and Niles appear to have tried to avert this by taking turns "being the bigger man" whenever they have a falling out, leading Frasier to gleefully remember on one occasion that it's his turn to be the humble and mature one graciously accepting the other's apology. Unfortunately, when time comes, it turns out he'd forgotten an occasion a few weeks ago where Niles was the one to apologise, meaning that it isn't his turn after all.
  • In The Good Place, Eleanor and Chidi find a bottle of champagne and decide to drink it, but feel bad about stealing it until they read the attached note:
    Gwendolyn: Here's some champagne for you for thanking me for thanking you for thanking me for thanking you for thanking me for the champagne you sent me.
  • Inside No. 9: Reaches very dark levels in "The Bill" when a group of friends keep doing this to each other over payment of the titular restaurant bill. It escalates until the waitress is accidentally killed in the scuffle. Things look bleak until it is revealed to be an elaborate con, and the waitress is both alive and in on it.

  • Featured in "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Amish Paradise" as part of the religious equivalent of a Boastful Rap. "Think you're really righteous? Think you're pure in heart? Well, I know I'm a million times as humble as thou art!"

  • In Hamlet Act V, Scene 1, Hamlet and Laertes engage in this at Ophelia's funeral:
    Hamlet: I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers could not (with all their quantity of love) make up my sum. What wilt thou do for her?
    ...Woo't weep? woo't fight? woo't fast? woo't tear thyself?
    Woo't drink up eisell? Eat a crocodile? I'll do't.
    Dost thou come here to whine? To outface me with leaping in her grave?
    Be buried quick with her, and so will I.

    Video Games 
  • My Cafe has a story arc where Margaret and Felicia got double-booked at the same wedding venue and date, twice. They then argue that the other deserves the wedding more and try to back out of their own reservation, to the point that the organizer gets tired of their antics and cancels both reservations. The grooms eventually settle this by organizing a double wedding for both at the venue of their first reservation (which was previously destroyed by an unrelated event).

  • El Goonish Shive, Elliot and Ashley argue by putting themselves down and praising the other.
  • In this Nedroid strip, Beartato and Reginald spend most of Thanksgiving trying to find new things to be thankful for about each other.

    Web Videos 
  • In the Epic Rap Battles of History episode "Martin Luther King, Jr. vs. Mahatma Gandhi", they try to out-forgive each other.
  • JonTron: Jon and his assistant director Sergio Torres consider each other number one. They insist on it until they are grabbing each other by the shirt collar and threatening to kill each other.

    Western Animation 
  • Archie's Weird Mysteries:
    • One episode ends with Archie and Reggie each insisting that they'll pay for the tab. When it looks like they're going to break into an argument, Betty decides to pay instead. Subverted when it turns out they were only pretending to argue with each other so someone else would pay for them.
    • Another episode has Reggie and a robot duplicate of him competing over which of them is nicer, a rather daunting task considering Reggie is a Jerkass while the robot is a Nice Guy. Reggie eventually wins by telling the robot if it was really the nicest, it would let him win.
  • On Family Guy, one of the fights between Peter and the Chicken was over who would pick up the check after the Chicken and his wife take Peter out for dinner in an attempt to bury the hatchet because Peter refused to let the Chicken pay for everything.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, the episode "Trade Ya!" features Applejack and Rarity each wanting to trade all their shared barter goods for an item the other thinks is frivolous. They then shift to demanding the trade that's done should be the one the other wants, to prove they're the better friend.
    • Taken to even more extreme levels in "Non-Compete Clause" when after Applejack and Rainbow Dash become too competitive with each other, they switch to becoming overly agreeable to the other's ideas for every decision to prove they're better at teamwork.
  • A variation occurs in the Star Trek: Lower Decks episode "Hear All, Trust Nothing." Kira and Shaxs served in the Bajoran resistance together, and apparently saved each others' lives multiple times. They basically end up in a fight with each one claiming the other person saved their life more times than the reverse.