Last fall I had a bit of trouble with an unusually obnoxious troll (real harassment, illegal and ominous). It gave me some doubts about how to manage my writing career. I had a chat with author and illustrator Daniel Loxton, whose most recent book is Abominable Science! Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids. Daniel often deals with controversial subject matter, and seems to do it with style and grace, which is why I asked him for some advice.

“I try to be unflappable,” he told me, among other things. That idea stuck like a burr, and I’ve been trying to be “unflappable” ever since … whatever it is. I know it when I’m doing it, but what exactly does it mean to be unflappable? What instructions can you follow to be unflappable? Here’s what I’ve boiled it down to after months of experimentation:

Answer insults and insulting questions blandly, as if not insulted at all. Act oblivious to hostility, like you have no capacity to even detect it, let alone react badly to it. Your knickers will remain untwisted, your jimmies unrustled.

Even better, it is powerfully defusing. Most people are insulting out of carelessness, not real malice, and will carry on harmlessly enough if their rudeness is ignored. Interactions that would go off the rails quickly if I reacted emotionally can be easily salvaged. I shouldn’t be so surprised by the power of this, because it makes perfect sense. I just wish I’d tried it earlier in life. Better late than never.