Our next door neighbor has a lawn fetish. He mows the lawn twice a week - minimum. He fertilizes, waters, rolls - all the myriad little things that make a lawn look like a golf course. We do none of these things, which appears to mystify him completely. He, of course, mystifies us. S and I mow the lawn every one or two weeks, as needed, and otherwise ignore it in favor of the far more interesting vegetable garden or flower beds. You can see our neighbor's brain ticking over as he watches us digging in the garden. "Why are they wasting so much time on the vegetables when their lawn is in such sad shape?"
Recently we've discovered that we can make him torture himself just by doing things to our lawn. It started by accident. I mowed our lawn about two days after he mowed his. Before I had even finished he was out mowing his lawn again - about a day earlier than usual. We quickly found out that we can make him mow his lawn anytime, under any circumstances, just by making our lawn slightly shorter than his. It's become a game by now. It's going to rain tomorrow, can I make him mow in the rain by mowing just ahead of it? Check. Can I make him mow in the dark? Check.
The Germans probably have a word for this. It's a little like schadenfreude, but not quite. The joy of backing someone into a corner, so that they either have to give up a little on their fetish, or torture themselves. There's a mild sadistic joy in watching them torture themselves, but it would be a greater pleasure to watch him give up on mowing just once, and go play with his little girl.
I've seen similar behavior in karate on occassion. Most usually it comes from teenaged boys, or younger men, in the form of eccessively macho behavior. Generally the most obvious, and most annoying (at least to me) manifestation, is that they cannot let a girl (defined as anyone with XX genetics) win. I've been known to play the same sorts of games with the boys at the dojo that I do with my neighbors. If I do thirty pushups, the guys afflicted will have to do more than thirty. If I break two boards with a punch, then they will too, or break their hands trying. Or, since Sensei is very careful about possible injury, complain bitterly when he won't let them take on too much.
Fortunately there's not too much of this at this dojo. There's only one boy who suffers from a bad case of macho, and his father and Sensei mostly keep him in check. Which is a good thing, because he cannot get it through his head that at 37 years old, 5'8" and 200 pounds, there are a lot of things I can do, that he (11, 4'5", 98 lbs) is not going to be able to do yet. Plus, he does have respect for my rank and additional knowledge, which helps. He had a counterpart at my old dojo who was much more of a problem (to himself more than to me). This was a boy who outranked me, so respect for my rank didn't figure in. He thought that gender plus rank trumped size and strength every time, and it was downright easy to make him run into the wall of his own expectations. At the summer picnic all I had to do was get in the pool, and he did the rest. Because obviously a guy who's a brown belt is better in the water than a girl who's only an orange belt (who was a part-time swim instructor with lifeguard training). He half-drowned himself trying to do everything I did, only better, while all I did was fool around in the pool like I normally would.
I don't quite know what to do with the guys who suffer from this. There's some joy to be had watching them torture themselves, but it would be much more satisfactory if they could just realize - they're doing it to themselves. If they'd give it up, maybe we could all settle down and learn karate.