Today on Tommy T’s obsession with Random Ruminations – Ambivalent about ambidexterity edition

Ambivalent about ambidexterity

When I was very young, the conventional wisdom (thank you so much, Dr. Spock) was to take your lefty child and turn them into a rightie, so that they would fit into a right-handed majority’s world.

This was accomplished by things like “If your baby reaches for something with their left hand, withhold it. If they reach for it with their right, let them have it”, and similar aversion training. My Mom did this with me.

Unfortunately, what this really did was to screw up my manual dexterity, and make me equally clumsy with BOTH hands.

I realized this when I took a manual dexterity test at Texas State Technical Institute which consisted of removing tiny washers from one steel rod one at a time, and transferring them to an adjacent rod. I was almost to the time limit when I looked around and saw my fellow students picking up the washers by the tens and doing the move. Too late for me to join in the cheating, I failed the test. The instructor responsible for counseling new students on their suitability for the classes/career path they wanted to take (in my case, electronics) looked at my entrance exam questions and noted that I played the bass guitar. His unspoken “NOT VERY WELL, I’D WAGER” hung in the air like miasma.

So – I’ve lived my entire life with my right-side fighting my left side for control. I shot Marksman with both hands at Allen Academy (and my “weak hand” is still almost identical to my “strong hand” in pistol target shooting), but I pick up things with my left hand, write with my right, and play bass right-handed. This has assisted me in becoming The World’s Clumsiest Person, and denied me the ability to do things I know perfectly well how to do, but would screw up through clumsiness.

Thanks, Mom.

8 thoughts on “Today on Tommy T’s obsession with Random Ruminations – Ambivalent about ambidexterity edition

  1. My friends are all lefties, and I’m not. What does that say about me? That I’m weird?

  2. Handedness is poorly defined. I can’t tell you how many cop/detective shows I’ve seen where the murderer’s left-handedness is indicated by his writing, and evidence of his crime. I write and throw with my left hand. I never thought to need a pair of LH scissors. I use most hand tools with my right hand and never hammer with my left. I never use a table knife with my left. I usually brush with my left, blow my nose with my left. It wasn’t until Cleon Jones was in a World Series that I became aware that throwing left and batting right was somewhat unusual*, but swinging a bat left-handed always felt awkward to me.

    *He was the only such player on either team.

  3. orthodextrous, levodextrous, ambidextrous.

    And then there’s amphidextrous, but me? adextrous.

    Sort of like LGBQA for handedness. Both are wired deep in the brain.

  4. Howdy Tommy!

    I’m reminded of an incredibly cruel experiment by Hubel and Wiesel in which they sewed the eyes of newborn kittens closed and then reopened that at various time periods to evaluate how it would affect the development of their eyesight. If their eyes were sewn shut for too long, they would be blind. Their optical cortex wouldn’t develop and they couldn’t interpret the signals coming from their eyes. That cortical space would’ve been taken over by other functions. I suspect a similar thing happened to you. But, because you have coordination in your hands and fingers, you probably could improve with concerted and concentrated effort.


    1. I tell people who compliment me on my bass playing “If I play well, it’s because I FORCED myself to play well, not some innate or natural ability.”
      I get the “concerted and concentrated effort” thing you referred to, completely.

      1. That’s from brain plasticity. Your brain will rewire itself but it takes concentrated effort. The literature is fascinating. If you’re interested, I’d recommend “The Brain that Changes Itself” by Norman Doidge.

  5. I’m not the world’s greatest authority on this, but it seems to me that in the history of string instruments in western culture, the bow looms large– that musical expression had much more to do with the nuances of shaping the attack and timbre of the note with the bow in your dextrous hand, rather than fretting. Only when we turned the cello sideways and laid it across our laps, and put fret wires on it, did there seem to be a discontinuity. And prominent among Eddie Van Halen’s innovations is giving the right hand more responsibility for fretting.

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