Hearing someone blowing a raspberry recently led to wondering where that term came from. The Online Etymology Dictionary revealed that the noun “raspberry,” as in “the fruit of various plants of the genus Rubus,” was called the “raspis berry” in the 1540s, which itself is “a word of obscure origin. Possibly it is from ‘raspise,’ a sweet rose-colored wine.” The “rude sound” produced by sticking your tongue out and blowing originated in 1890 and was “a shortening of raspberry tart, rhyming slang for fart,” a bit of belligerent info I won’t soon forget.

Having a bird feeder on our deck has clearly illuminated how some hairy woodpeckers seem more confrontational than others. It’s also true of the local red squirrels, some of whom appear to believe they can push me around, and reading “Personality Matters, Even for Squirrels” by Kat Kerlin last month provided an inkling of why they persist in their madness. “A study from the University of California, Davis,” Kerlin wrote, “is the first to document personality in golden-mantled ground squirrels, which are common across the western U.S. and parts of Canada. The study, published in the journal Animal Behaviour, found the squirrels show personality for four main traits: boldness, aggressiveness, activity level, and sociability.”

ScienceDaily.com added “there are ecological consequences of animal personality. For instance, bolder, more aggressive squirrels may find more food or defend a larger territory, but their risky behavior may also make them vulnerable to predation or accidents.” Perhaps their bellies’ inhabitants are working together like Congressmen, i.e. uncooperatively.

ScienceDaily.com also reported that “The early development of the gut, the brain, and the immune system are closely interrelated. Researchers refer to this as the gut-immune-brain axis. Bacteria in the gut cooperate with the immune system, which in turn monitors gut microbes and develops appropriate responses to them. In addition, the gut is in contact with the brain via the vagus nerve as well as via the immune system ... The microorganisms of the gut microbiome — which is a vital collection of hundreds of species of bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microbes — are in equilibrium in healthy people.”

On the other hand, maybe those belligerent squirrels’ alpha waves are out of whack. According to the journal JNeurosci, University of Vienna researchers have found an increase in our brains’ alpha waves when we make biased decisions. “Everyone has bias, and neuroscientists can see what happens inside your brain as you succumb to it. The clue comes from alpha brain waves — a pattern of activity when the neurons in the front of your brain fire in rhythm together.” Strong alpha waves indicate we’re submitting to our biases, while weak alpha waves are present when we resist our biases.

There’s a strong bias against red squirrels residing in my subconscious, but perhaps I shouldn’t take their house-breaking, electric cable-chewing and chickadee-eating personally. Or should I? In “Don’t Take It So Personally” Is the Ultimate Gaslighting Insult — According to Experts,” an online article, Anna Brech wrote, “The phrase ‘don’t take it so personally’ might sound innocent enough, and is often used with the best of intentions, but it’s also used by gaslighters as a classic way of asserting control and spreading self-doubt in relationships.” Gaslighting is “a form of emotional abuse by which someone seeks to make their victim question their own reality and sanity, but it’s difficult to identify since telling someone not to take something personally isn’t always gaslighting.”

Nonetheless, “in an eye-opening article on the topic, Edinburgh-based therapist Dr. Claire Jack says that manipulators give themselves away by the use of certain telltale phrases. And ‘don’t take it so personally’ typically counts among these as a major red flag in this context … the key problem with “you’re overreacting” or similar phrases is that, used in the wrong context, it can take away your ability to own your own feelings ... The issue is that the more someone tells you you’re being over-sensitive, the more you can start to think they may have a point; and simultaneously, the more you might start to doubt yourself. And that, of course, is exactly what the gaslighter wants ... If you start to notice a pattern of ‘you’re too sensitive’ comebacks from the same person (typically someone close to you like a partner), it’s worth making a note of it.” Like most self-help articles, Brech offers suggestions, such as “take a step back: are you really being hypersensitive?” Discuss the situation with “a trusted outside party” is another vital step.”

Entrepreneur.com writer Deep Patel provided “10 Effective Ways Intelligent People Deal With Rude People.” He said “Rudeness seems to be part of human nature … Rude behavior can easily become a habit for many people. We often simply overlook or forget the importance of showing kindness, sympathy and understanding to others.” Patel’s first step to stopping the cycle of rudeness is to “stop taking rude behavior personally.” Uh-oh! Red flag! He also suggested returning rudeness with kindness, using humor “to defuse a difficult person,” calling the person out on his or her behavior, exhibiting empathy and sympathy, and, if all else fails, “avoid the rude person.”

An anonymous online writer offers “10 Ways to Be Rude to People” to keep others from bothering you, such as “raise your voice a lot and be very demanding,” “never go along with anyone and always rebel in a decision,” “take everything personally,” (uh-oh again!), “name calling,” “yell at them,” “never change your behavior even when you know it hurts someone,” and “treat no one with respect. Not women, not your elders, not people in positions of authority. This is ultimate rudeness.”

Self help books and articles like these are perennially popular, and for that we can thank Samuel Smiles, a Victorian Scottish author and government reformer. Although he campaigned on a Chartist platform, he promoted the idea that more progress would come from new attitudes than from new laws. His first and primary work, titled “Self-Help” (1859), promoted “thrift and claimed that poverty was caused largely by irresponsible habits,” according to Wikipedia, and It has been called “the bible of mid-Victorian liberalism” and had lasting effects on British political thought. His father died when Smiles was 20, but he continued his studies with his studies with support from his mother who “ran the small family general store firm in the belief that the ‘Lord will provide’. Her example of working ceaselessly to support herself and his nine younger siblings strongly influenced Smiles’s future life.

As a minor journalist Smiles advocated radical causes ranging from women’s suffrage to free trade and parliamentary reform, but in 1859 he published “Self-Help,” which “raised Smiles to celebrity status almost overnight.” It was followed by a series of sequels: “Character,” “Thrift,” “Duty,” and “Life and Labour.” He maintained that “Knowledge is of itself one of the highest enjoyments. The ignorant man passes through the world dead to all pleasures, save those of the senses ... He should have the means of education, and of exerting freely all the powers of his godlike nature.”

Smiles’ dream for an affordable and easily accessible means for people of average means to improve themselves was created not in the U.K. but in the U.S., where the free public library was invented and spread nation-wide. The public library is a storehouse of knowledge and fine words, for as American journalist William Raspberry wrote, “yes, words matter. They reflect reality, but they also have the power to change reality — the power to uplift and to abuse.”

Greg Hill is the former director of Fairbanks North Star Borough libraries. Contact him at 479-4344.

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