Can You Top This?

By Brian Boyle 04/07/18

Imagine: a one-hour AA meeting with each speaker trying to be more humble than the previous speakers!

A man standing with his hands up, as if telling a story.
Humbler than thou.

So, I am old, OK?

When I was a kid, in the days before television, my younger brother and I would listen to the radio before we went to bed. I loved The Lone Ranger, Tales of the FBI, Science Fiction Theater. But one of my favorites was a show called CAN YOU TOP THIS?

CAN YOU TOP THIS? was a comedy show. Someone would submit a joke which would be read on the air. Then, a panel of three comedians would try to come up with a better joke. The show was not scripted. And, there was an “audience meter” to measure the laughter or applause after the jokes were told. Then, if the joke that was submitted “won,” the submitter received a GRAND PRIZE of $25.00! Some of the jokes were hilarious. The show was on the radio for a number of years and then on television for almost 10 years.

For anyone who is not familiar with it, I would suggest that you Google it. Or check it out here or here.

Anyway, the show was finally canceled, and I missed it.

Then, in 1993, I found myself in AA.

And, after going to a number of AA meetings, it slowly dawned on me that I was going to a live version of CAN YOU TOP THIS?

It took a while to begin to realize this.

When I was very new, I attended a lot of discussion meetings in my area. I listened a lot. I was trying to learn AA. I was going to achieve or to attain. I heard others talk about change. I wanted to change. And there were many meetings dealing with the topic of humility. So, after a number of these kinds of meetings, I said to myself something like I will change and I will become humble. So, I would no longer brag about my accomplishments. Wouldn’t that make me humble? Then down the road, I caught myself doing something that bothered me!

If, say, after an AA meeting, I was having a conversation with someone, and they would “confess” to me something bad that they had done, guess what my reply was? Well. I began to realize that my reply was, often, along the lines of “you did something bad! Well, I did something worse!” It hit me, I was still bragging! What I was just doing was the flipside of the same coin. Instead of bragging about my good acts, I was bragging about my bad acts. I was playing my favorite game of CAN YOU TOP THIS?

This was a very uncomfortable learning experience; perhaps “shocking realization” might be a more appropriate description.

Why? It took me a while to begin to realize that it was, simply, my fear-based ego. It was one of the ways that I used to keep people at a safe distance. If I can be better than you, I can protect myself from you getting to know who I really am.

You see, two basic rules had been governing my life:

  1. I want you to like me;
  2. I just don’t want you to know me.

Because, underlying all of this, is a great fear that if you really knew me, if you knew all the horrible things I did, if you knew the people I hurt, and so on, how could you like me? At times I don’t like me!

So, because of this, I have to keep people at a safe distance where they only see those parts of me that I want them to see. In fact, over the years, when someone would get too close, the fear would kick in and I would sabotage the relationship, to protect myself.

And one of the most effective ways of pushing people back is by making myself just a little superior to them. If I can be a little superior by telling you what to do, for example, or what the Big Book means, or by becoming your guru or teacher, I am in a superior position. And that is so much more comfortable since I can control what you know about me.

I still struggle with this at times and catch myself playing CAN YOU TOP THIS? I’m getting better with time, but it still pops up if I’m not careful.

So, now I tend to chuckle when I realize that I am at another AA CAN YOU TOP THIS meeting. I may squirm with discomfort, but I am really identifying with what is going on: each speaker trying to top the prior speaker,

I really enjoy an AA CAN YOU TOP THIS: HUMILITY meeting.

The leader of the AA meeting picks humility as the topic of the day. Someone shares about humility or how humble they are. Next speaker gets picked and has to be a little more humble than the first person. And the next speaker has to out-humble the prior speakers. And so on and on it goes. A one hour meeting with each speaker trying to be humbler than the previous speakers!

And I have to chuckle to myself. Why am I laughing on the inside? Simple: I have been guilty of doing the same thing. About the only difference is that I am not speaking at that meeting, but boy, on the inside, my brain is telling me to raise my hand, get called on, and be the humblest person at that meeting! I want to play CAN YOU TOP THIS?….still.

Finally, what have I learned from this experience, if anything? Well, AA is not a rehab or a therapy session. AA is a bunch of drunks trying not to drink, today. And as a member of AA I am not a teacher or guru. I can’t fix anyone, and no one can fix me. But, we can help each other.

To quote our Preamble, we are “a fellowship ….who share their experience strength and hope…” So, as long as I stick to my experience, my fear-based ego is in check. But I have to be careful or I might find myself trying to outdo your story.

I guess I am an alcoholic, but I still love CAN YOU TOP THIS?

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