I was at a symphony performance a few nights ago and about halfway into one of the pieces I noticed string section members looking to each other with questioning glances. Then I saw the conductor look to their section, point at himself and accept the blame. All smiled and the concert continued. Few, if any of us, in the audience caught whatever the error was. I certainly didn’t hear anything untoward.

Many years ago I was on stage and another actor collapsed. Fortunately he’d held himself together long enough to reach a fight scene, where he fell into the arms of myself and another cast member. We got him offstage and onto a cot. The remaining two actors ad-libbed the last 10 minutes of the play – and the only people who knew the difference were the scrambling tech crew and the confused actors waiting in the green room, who otherwise would have had parts in this final scene.

As a friend of mine puts it, much of life’s like a duck paddling upstream. Things may look calm on top, but underneath, that duck’s paddling like hell. Or, as many of us have also heard, you’ve got to work your butt off to make something look effortless.

Most of us know the effort it takes to stay calm in the face of some other person’s lunacy, be it political, spiritual or social. [And remember, it’s always their lunacy, almost never ours!] It’s difficult to ignore these people and the events they create. But when we look to control our reaction in these situations, we’re only creating more stomach acid for ourselves.

So what is to be done?

Should you try changing what passes for another’s mind? It’s borderline impossible. You might affect their behavior, but their mind and soul? Let’s get real. And if you fight fire with fire, you’ve simply stooped to their level. Yes, I know that setting backfires works, but only in the short term, to control symptoms and immediate behavior. Backfires still leave scorched earth. It’s more effective – but much, much harder – to address causes.

“He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he become a monster.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

There’s another way. We can devote the same effort – and some self-discipline – to changing ourselves. Whether it’s an eastern discipline like yoga and its cousins, a western religious one, or a hybrid of our own choosing, tools exist to help us change ourselves. We just need to use them.

Then maybe we can learn to respond, rather than to react. Then maybe we can learn to see the rationale in someone else’s viewpoint. We may even discover that they have a better solution to an issue than we had. Then, maybe, we can show – and receive – some respect. Maybe we can let that other person save a little bit of face. It takes time. It can be frustrating as hell. But it’s better than hurling bumper sticker slogans at each other across that increasingly toxic cesspool we call the internet.