Chapter 3

Understanding the Language of the Hands

As the tongue speaks to the ear, the gesture speaks to the eye.

—King James I

Humans are unique in how extensively and variably they communicate with their hands. Our hands are marvelous creations that can accomplish many things. Think back to when you were young and standing next to your parents and something scared you. You reached for their hands to receive comfort and protection.

Even before that time, your hands were the means through which you explored the world around you. As you got older, you learned how to use your hands to perform basic skills such as feeding and dressing yourself, to more advanced skills such as painting, sculpting, cooking, and manipulating tools. A surgeon spends hundreds of hours training his or her hands to react in tiny movements to save lives. A musician learns finger placement, keystrokes, and more. In his 1980 book Hands, John Napier made an interesting point. He said that we explore the world around us using our eyes and hands, but only one of these permits us to see around corners and in the dark. He also stated that humans are the only creatures to communicate meaningfully with their hands. Regardless of how skilled a speaker you become, you will still use your hands to augment your speech.

This is my focus for this chapter: how our hands communicate not only language but also emotions to those we interact with. Napier went on to say that the hands mirror the brain, because what the brain ...

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