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Posts Tagged ‘Nature/Nurture’

You are right or left hand dominant because of genetics, right?

When I was six years old, my oldest brother began to teach me how to play baseball. It was simple catch at first. I wanted a glove. My brother seemed to think that I threw as well with my left hand as with my right hand. He insisted that I should throw left-handed. I got a left-hand glove. He said lefties make pitchers who are harder to hit off of and make good 1st basemen. I was learning to write, shoot basketball, eat with a fork and pick up a cup with my right hand, and kick balls with my right foot. I definitely had right hand preference, not only because of the many everyday things I do right-handed, but also because fine motor skills are much more developed in my right hand. I definitely do not consider myself to be ambidextrous, but here I am throwing baseballs, footballs, and skipping rocks with my left hand and doing everything else right-handed.

As time has progressed I have learned to hammer nails and split wood with either hand. I hammer more accurately right-handed but go at it left-handed sometimes in order rest my right. The inside of my wrist on my right forearm has a muscular budge missing on the left wrist from pounding nails and wedges. Learning a skill with the other hand is tedious and sometimes dangerous. I split wood with both hands simultaneously, but the hand on top is the preference and lead hand. For the sake of working longer and working both sides of my body, and particularly my back, I alternate hands.

Which leg of your pants do you step into first, right or left? Which arm of your shirt or blouse do you put on first, left or right? Which way do you cross your legs or fold your arms or clasp your hands? Which one is on top? You have a preference, a handedness, a brain side preference.*

But you can change the level or preference and the balance of strength and coordination. In a number of sports and skills, equal strength and grace are needed by both hands and both sides of the body. Try putting the opposite leg into your pants first. It is hugely awkward the first few times you do it, but with time you feel more coordinated. I alternate regularly. Cross your arms or legs or fingers the opposite way. It feels weird but makes new connections in your brain as you practice it.

There are some things I will not try both ways for safety reasons. I tie my rope and belay when climbing the same way every time so that I may do it correctly without thought in an urgent situation. For the belayer these situations are frequent. As a result, I can and do have conversations while belaying and still catch my partner every time. But climbing requires strength, coordination, and flexibility in all four limbs and in many combinations. That takes work. I can only imagine how a good dancer or ice skater leads into a move with equal grace on either leg. A good pianist must be able to play the melody and complex harmonies with either hand and trade back and forth as the score of music demands. These activities and many others require practice and consideration.

Here is another childhood story that applies to my three brothers and me. Our mother taught her young sons to put their belts on clockwise, that is, starting through the loop right of the button. Traditionally in the U.S., men wear their belts counterclockwise and women wear their belts clockwise. Supposedly this originated with women dressing their men and men opening cloaks to draw swords. I did not know all of this detail until I was challenged as to why I wore my belt “backwards”. Now to increase coordination, I wear my belt both ways, alternating from one day to the next.

So, handedness is definitely genetically gifted but is environmentally altered and may be altered and attenuated by intentional effort. As I have argued here, I think it is useful to strength, coordination, grace, flexibility, and skill to do so.

*The right hand is operated by the left brain and visa-versa.

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