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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.
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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. Sister Trope to Misery Poker.

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Examples

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     Anime and Manga  

  • 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.

     Literature  

  • 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.
  • 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...

     Live Action TV  

  • 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.
  • 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 as the bigger man.
  • 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.

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     Web Original  

  • In the Epic Rap Battles of History episode "MLK Jr. vs. Mahatma Gandhi", they try to out-forgive each other.
  • In this Nedroid strip, Beartato and Reginald spend most of Thanksgiving trying to find new things to be thankful for about each other.

     Western Animation  

  • 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 barter goods for an item the other thinks is frivolous. They then shift to demanding the other do the trade they want to prove they're the better friend.
  • One episode of Archie's Weird Mysteries 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.


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