Monday, March 23, 2009
When I first read about the research back in the seventies, I was intrigued. It caught my attention, I think, because I am left-handed and us lefties always feel like we are somehow qualitatively different than everyone else. Beyond a reliance on the opposite hand, exactly how we are out of the ordinary remains sketchy.
We all know that the world was built for right-handers. Through the centuries, lefties have complained of persecution. Suffered abuse. Even the Bible speaks somewhat disparagingly about us here and there. Heck, the word for “correct” is right. Get it?
Me… well, I’ve just had find a way to get over it.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not a pure lefty like say, Phil Mickelson. (He’s a good example because with Phil, there’s no hiding it. Lefties on the Tour are so rare you can spot Mick on any Sunday afternoon in high definition from three hundred yards out.) I write with my left hand. Eat left. Think left. But most everything else is right handed – including golf, racquetball, throwing a ball and bowling. Let’s just say I’m confused.
So I was intrigued by the research in the past half century. It indicates a fundamental shift in the understanding of the two hemispheres of the gray matter floating just inside the bony sphere of a skull we all carry around. It was once believed that one half dominated the other. Now, we understand that the two halves of our brain process information differently. Our thinking always lives in tension between the two halves – one linear the other spatial. The left half is where language develops and we assemble information in a straight line of thought and action. It processes data and writes formulas and creates graphs and measures distances. The right half of the brain is entirely different. It sees shapes and colors. It recognizes smells, and associates experience with memory. It triggers feelings and senses trends. It interprets and synthesizes.
The first book I read on the subject a long time ago made the modest suggestion that all Western Civilization is left-brained. Everything from the cataloguing of The Great Books to encyclopedias to industrialization and engineering and space travel and machinery and census taking are all activities of the left brain. Standardized tests (like the S.A.T.) and the obsession with quantifying and measuring and analyzing are all left brain fixations. The unforgettable illustration had to do with drawing a simple picture. Most American kids can’t draw by third or fourth grade, according to the theory, because their right brain has been suppressed by a left brain educational system.
There’s a simple test to illustrate the point. You can try it. The results will astound you. Try drawing a simple reproduction of an automobile. Use a magazine or coloring book as your source. Unless you are already an artist, you’ll have trouble getting it right. In fact, you’ll hear yourself say you simply can’t do it. You’re lousy. No good. You’ll have to overcome the inner voice of defeat. After you finish, try it again. This time, turn the photo upside down and draw your own inverted image of the same subject. When you are done, turn your drawing right side up and compare it with your first.
Why is the second so much better? You tricked your pessimistic left brain. You tapped into the creative power of your right brain.
So when I was asked to speak this summer to a room full of all things, church business administrators, I was asked to address this subject. When I confessed that I am something less than an expert in this field, the man in charge didn’t seem concerned. Maybe it’s my left-handedness that caused me to agree to speak.
I’ll admit to you here and now that the whole thing fascinates me.
It explains a lot about how we divide ourselves up in this modern world of ours: science/art, conservative/liberal, Mars/Venus, Skinnerian/Freudian, masculinity/femininity, Calvinist/Arminian, West/East, Republican/Democrat, Reformed Church/Emerging Church, Legalist/Libertarian, and so on. Left Brain/Right Brain.
So I’m reading a popular business book called “A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future” by Daniel H. Pink. He’s making the not-so-modest case that in our brave new world Left Brained folks must prepare themselves for the take-over of Right Brainers. All the left-brain activity that brought us to this place of dominance in the global marketplace is now being outsourced abroad. Linear jobs have either gone to India and China or to a computer processor. What remains is for us all to learn to embrace the right hemisphere of our brains.
Pink also explains that the right side of our brain controls the left side of our body and vice versa. If you are still with me, you’ll see how my left-handedness plays into all this. This left hand of mine is controlled by my right brain. Ha!
So on this Monday morning, as a leader, don’t let your linear, analytical left brain hold you back. Sing a song. Draw a picture. Set aside the calculations and the data base and stop trying to force your life into a formula. Set aside the how to manual, and read a novel.
Let beauty, love and joy set your imagination lose. Create. Watch a cloud. Think metaphor.
It’s the right thing to do.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2009