Remember that classic Seinfeld episode where perennial loser George Costanza turns his life around by doing the exact opposite of what he would normally do and (for the first time) comes out on top? It’s a cute idea for a sitcom but you’d be amazed how often it works in real life.
Belfast, 2010: An armoured police van, dispatched to quell an angry mob of protesters is immediately under fire from rocks, bottles and Molotov cocktails. The officers inside prepare to confront the mob with a barrage of tear gas and rubber bullets, as they have done a dozen times before.
Just then the driver wonders: what if, instead of meeting force with force, you met it with humour? Plugging the vehicle’s PA system into his MP3 player, the officer broadcasts the tinkling music box melody of a suburban ice cream van.
The rioters freeze in disbelief for a moment or two and then burst into laughter. Within seconds the fury had dissipated and within minutes the rioters had wandered off, probably to get an ice cream.
After years of locking horns with rioters, the officer had recognised a pattern, an escalating cycle of force, fed as much by his behaviour as the mob’s.
By ‘doing a Costanza’ he broke the cycle with the only element within his control: his response. Did he know for sure it was going to work? Of course not. But he did know for a fact that the Standard Operating Procedure would not work, because it never had, no matter how much force you used.
Things not working out for you? Maybe you’re partly to blame. Do a Costanza and see what happens.
It’s the only thing that ever worked for George… maybe it will work for you.