The need of being first (and telling everyone about it)

Whenever a discussion turns to the Harry Potter books, I never tire of telling people how I ‘discovered’ them before everybody else liked them (true!). Funnily enough, people from all over the world chime right in and tell me how they discovered them before all of their friends did.

Outrunning others matters - but why? (by vangogh at

A ‘multi-answer poll of 2,011 British adults’ published by London’s Metro newspaper, shows that books and movies are not the only areas of ‘rivalries’.

42% of the people asked admitted that they try to race from other cars, traffic lights or that they try to get ahead in traffic queues. Honestly, how much time does that save?

39% said that they are constantly competing to get on public transport first or try to get the last seat. Well, of course I’ve been there. But the public transport in London doesn’t exactly hold other options.

Being first not only matters in public

In the domestic sphere these struggles go on. 27% say that they feel the strong need to hold the remote control.

Another 15% feel happy when they are in control of the music in a car or at a party. Now, that’s just funny.

But why do we feel the need to ‘one-up’ others from time to time?

I found an interesting discussion thread which offers a lot of explanations.

The user ‘qwip’ muses that this behaviour is the result of insecurity. People who claim they liked something first ‘need to show that they are important too,’ he says.

‘Good in a vacuum’ has the theory that the fact that millions of others like what we like diminishes the sense of who we are. He thinks that ‘our tastes help to define us’ and that gets taken away if many others like the same things.

Self-perception challenged

‘Bingo’ points out that there is a difference between liking something because you really like it, whether or not it is popular and liking something because everybody likes it.

‘The former means that you make choices and have taste, the latter means that you are a sheep without free will,’ the user says.

Others think that this need to be first is rooted in evolution. Finding the best water source or the biggest animal herd makes you superior to others – an alpha-human.

All of these reasons make perfect sense. But even though it might be truly important for our self-perception to be an alpha-human, there are situations when that kind of struggle is absolutely pointless or socially harmful.

So please, give away your seat, stop at red lights, hand over those remote controls and I’ll try not to claim the discovery of Harry Potter for myself anymore – even though it’s true.

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3 Responses to The need of being first (and telling everyone about it)

  1. Sebastian says:

    It’s true, though: Whenever they play music on the radio that no one but me and some friends knew about some time ago, I feel like they’re taking it away from me. And I do think that’s because I feel it to be an attack on my individuality. Or something.

    I don’t know how this extends to red lights, though.

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