Philosophy, science



Now, there’s a word. Galling. I heard it spoken recently and it got me thinking. From the naturalist’s point of view, galls are a very interesting phenomenon. From the metaphoric point of view… well, galls are multivariate in origin. There is the initial cause, and then there is the reaction to that irritant, which blows the whole thing up into what is called the gall. 

When we are galled, we refer to it as something which rankles. Sticks in our craw. The bur under our saddle. Terms of phrase right off the farm, all of them, just like the galling sensation that extreme frustration engenders. The mental reaction can be similar to the physical reaction to a gall. In an animal, a gall comes from different sources. It can be where something rubs against the skin, and an overgrowth occurs – the body is trying to protect itself so it grows more hide there. In a plant the reaction to a fungus, or a parasite, can appear as a gall. The plant’s very cellular structure is altered, due to the invasion. If you have ever looked at an oak leaf, and an oak gall, you’ll see how wildly different the galling made that same structure develop. 

In plants the gall grows in response to an invasion of it’s tissues. The oak gall is a supergrowth, ironically providing food and shelter to the tiny, near-microscopic, wasp larvae. In the human mind, the response to a galling sensation is sometimes akin to that oak gall. A minor irritant, almost too small to bother with, blows up into a huge deal. Here’s the thing, though. You might be thinking, ok, why does the plant waste it’s resources on the gall? What is the motivation here? Why do we humans let someone who isn’t more than a pissant get under our skins and make it hard to sleep at night due to our frustration with them? We should just let it go, right? 

Well, no. See, that kind of thinking doesn’t factor in something we didn’t know about galls until more recent science taught us the missing piece of the puzzle. The insect, not the plant, triggers the gall. The wasp not only lays her egg on the plant, but also leaves enzymes that trigger wild growth in the plant’s cells. A sort of controlled cancer. Like most insect mothers, she’s an absentee, but she had made sure of the home and food before she flitted off to another leaf with another egg. But this essay isn’t a science lesson, it’s about the effects of parasitic attacks on the human mind. 

We all of us humans have something we find galling. It rubs us the wrong way. Makes our mind sore. And if we don’t understand what is happening, and take steps to reduce the irritation, we start to distort around the pain point. We blow it up all out of proportion inside our mind, and if we really aren’t paying attention, we wind up with a full-blown case of what’s called in the vernacular ‘they’re living in your head rent-free.’ Just like that oak-gall larvae. Fortunately, we’re not a plant. Well. Most of us have more self-awareness than a plant who walks, anyway. 

Even if you aren’t sure your reaction to something is out of proportion, humans are a communicative species on a somewhat more active level than plants are (yes, trees communicate to one another. It’s slower, and probably healthier than, say, social media). You can check with someone you trust ‘should this have bothered me? Should it continue to bother me?’ Better yet, check in with more than one person. Make it a quorum (heh, bacteria communication!) and go with the majority. Sometimes with these brain-galls, we need that feedback from outside. Because the pest who laid that annoying idea-itch you can’t scratch may have known exactly what they were doing, and added in some poison that made your ability to think clearly, rationally analyze, and respond proportionately go right out the window. Humans react reflexively to some stimuli for good reason. Humans also developed higher-order logical skills for reasons. Both are good. Both are necessary to survival in the modern jungle. 

Here’s the thing – finding something galling doesn’t mean you shouldn’t react to it. You probably should. Too many galls, and plants drop their leaves out of stress, they stop growing, and can even die. Galls are taking resources you could use elsewhere. But a human being annoyed can do something a plant cannot. We can move. We can dodge that little parasite trying to drop poison in our ears. We can swat them, stopping their gall campaign, and move on with our lives serenely. Or we can simply stop the wild overgrowth process in the mind when the gall is beginning to swell, and move on with our lives, ignoring them. Ignoring a tantrum is generally the most effective tactic. Parasitic wasps? Those, you should swat. Oh, and the other kind of gall? Grow a thicker skin. And remove the chafing, so you don’t wind up with a bleeding, infected sore. If we don’t let them get to us, they don’t get what they want. 

Psychological defenses against galling take many forms. Two different approaches are worth consideration here, and I’m sure others will pop up in the commentary. Firstly, you can swat your parasitic wasp. An alien invader trying to lay an egg, and load your mind with poison, is nobody’s idea of a good time. If it’s already been done, and you didn’t brush off the attack in time, that’s when you get some help. Figure out what a proportionate response is. Don’t reflexively swat when the damage has already been done… be ready and willing to pull off that gall and then make sure the wasp can’t do it again to some other leaf. Be measured. The mental gall with it’s supergrowth of rage and frustration will damage you, if you let it go on for too long. And then there’s the other kind of gall. The kind where the harness has rubbed a hole in you. That’s the one where you want to rip off the constriction, yelling something about taking this job and shoving it, and run off naked into the night screaming freedom! Only that might be disproportionate to the problem. There may be ways to pad the chafing harness. Or maybe that’s just never going to fit, and you need a new harness with a better boss who isn’t so toxic. Or a desk farther away from the mouth-breating coworker. Or… find the pain point. And then apply salve. Take a weekend off and relax, get your pain level to a point where you can think clearly. Then start to make the harness fit better, or slowly build up a business you run, so you don’t have to wear a harness at all(as a businesswoman, let me tell you you will be wearing one, just shaped differently!). Maybe it’s time to start hunting a new job, a new roommate, or just time to relax and find peace so your hide can heal up. 

Plants can’t warn one another ‘there’s that pesky wasp.’ Plants can’t say ‘oh, there’s a gall coming up on you. Want me to pick it off?’ Plants can’t look at their fellow plant and say ‘you’re stressed and your leaves are dropping under all those attacks. Can I give you some of my resources?’ 

Humans, we can do all of those things. In many ways. We can share knowledge. We can share humor. We can share food. We can communicate ourselves right into a community that is supportive and nurturing. And we do. And when someone buzzes in trying to harm our community through deceit and manipulation? We find it galling. 



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