When I was a Wall Street Journal journalist, I was sent to cover a football game in Barcelona. Later during the game, as I sat in the stadium, I was startled to see and hear many spectators in the stadium yelling racist insults down at the renowned Brazilian footballer, the flying fullback Dani Alves. Capping it off, an angry spectator who had been screaming racial epithets at him threw a banana down in front of Alves as he was walking back onto the field to play again.
Without a pause, Alves casually strolled over, picked up the banana, peeled it back as he continued strolling whlist eating several bites. Then he nonchalantly threw the banana peel over his shoulder, and continued back into the game. Then most of the crowd went wild, cheering Alves by name for his startling, fun, and instinctively uplifting reaction. That spontaneous, super-short, three-act playlet was captured on hundreds of smart phones in the stadium, then rapidly spread within the stadium and around the world.
Thus that single action turned a potentially violent crowd situation into a unifying and celebratory scene for those who were outraged by the racist insult. In fact, several individuals in the stadium proudly imitated his unfazed, positive response by standing up and throwing one arm up and behind them in an imitation of Alves overhead banana toss. And the Brazilian’s teammate Neymar tweeted, “Dani Alves owned him. Take that, you bunch of racists. We are all monkeys so what!”
Alves’s droll, unflappable response elevated his stature and enabled him to be more widely known and admired, way beyond his legion of fans in the stadium that day. One sign is the huge number of people who afterward posed for selfies outside the stadium as they imitated various versions of this unexpectedly viral, banana-peel tossing incident.
Later, the stadium management rode the wave of reaction and publicly banned the belligerent banana-thrower from the stadium. Yet Alves responded that this man should be allowed back in, so he could demonstrate he had learned from this lesson. In so doing, the news story lasted longer and spread farther, and Alves became even more widely known and admired for his grounded, magnanimous behavior.
Hint: The sweetest revenge is a grounded, well-lived life. Turn acts of ill will into healthy opportunities to glue others together around their better sides.
Core lesson: One nudge to enable you to stay cool when under fire is to remind yourself that one of your biggest opportunities to look noble in front of others is when you stay grounded and genial when someone else acts hostile. Also seek and speak to a sweet spot of mutual interest and motivate other by telling them.