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Left Brain vs. Right Brain and What Really “Matters”

I dedicate this month’s blog to my husband, LaMont Dismukes, not only because I am honored to celebrate his birthday with him today, but also because he is the inspiration for this month’s topic: In the battle of left brain vs. right brain, who wins? To be sure, this topic poses – for many people, I’m sure – the same quandary as deciding between the left or right Twix. I mean really, who can choose between two equally powerful forces? The left Twix features a crisp cookie drenched in caramel and covered in milk chocolate, while the right Twix features sweet milk chocolate covering a crunchy caramel-dipped cookie. Similarly, the left brain houses those neurons that control my ability to think methodically and analytically, while the right brain stores the nerve cells that influence my creative and artistic sides. Which one is better? . . . and why does one have to be “better”?

In perusing this question, I immediately thought of a conversation I - a nit-picky, arguably right-brained English professor - had with my husband, LaMont, a symmetry-seeking left-brained electrical engineer, a few months ago. We were enjoying a typical evening at home after seeing the kids off to bed; the television watched us in unison – him on his laptop computer checking the configurations of one of the latest switches designed for AT&T products, and me grading essays online. He looked up from his computer and asked, “What you doin’, Babe?” “Giving feedback on my students’ essays,” I replied. “Babe, just streamline that #@%!,” he offered. “They’re not gonna read all that #@%!, anyway; the world revolves around numbers.” “No,” I retorted; “The world revolves around language.” “Think of it” I continued; “the world revolves around language; that’s why literacy is so important. People have to be able to communicate.” I just knew I had made my point. I mean, surely LaMont had learned in our more than a decade of sharing a roof, kids, and a last name, not to mince words with a nit-picky English teacher . . . I was wrong . . . .

“Babe,” he said calmly, “When you assign your students essays, they ask you “how many pages, how many paragraphs, or how many words, right? . . . and you can’t answer those questions in anything but numbers, right?” “Well,” I countered, admittedly strengthening my resolve not to let my left-brained genius of a partner know that he had actually made a good point, “that’s why I don’t assign essays with page number or word-count requirements. I prefer quality over quantity.” Plus, I told him about a student-athlete I used to tutor. He used “in which” in almost every sentence. Most of the time, he used the phrase correctly; other times, not so much. In attempt to help the student, I pointed out the obvious: “I notice you like to use the phrase ‘in which’ a lot,” I said; “Why is that?” His eyes met mine with a very “matter-of-fact” look to them. “Yeah,” he shrugged; “my teacher said we need to write 1000 words, and I’m just trying to make the word count.”

“See?” said my husband; “the world revolves around numbers; you just don’t want to admit it.” “No,” I corrected; “that’s why I stopped assigning word counts. Quality over quantity!” As I sat there, admittedly reeling at the fact that he had made a good point, I looked at him working diligently to check a numeric formula while I continued to read and write paragraphs of explanations about symbolism. I felt compelled to share another story, my personal experience of having to write the formulas I encountered in my Calculus and Statistics classes as fully developed sentences in order to make sense of them. “That’s when I learned I was much stronger a student in language arts than I am in math and science,” I beamed, thinking surely I had produced the “mate” to his “check.”

“Babe,” he said, again, in his calm, resigned demeanor, “that’s you . . .” and just as all I could think to say was “and I guess that’s just you,” I experienced another epiphany: “Okay, Babe; how about this?” I offered, still not wanting to relent; “the world does revolve around language, but that language might be coded in numbers to count and express measurements or in letters to convey thoughts and feelings.” “Right,” he said, and winked as he turned off his laptop. “Right,” I said, as I left my last amount of feedback, turned off my laptop, and felt a strange feeling of accomplishment; for it is true that in that very moment, I learned that in terms of the left-brain vs. right brain, just like the left vs. right Twix, we really need both to make us feel “whole;” and I am so very thankful to my left-brained number-meshing better half for making this right-brained word-smith whole.

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