Were you the "thumb" in your family, and how do you explain this to yourself?


The Navaho have many stories and symbols related to family, and one of the very simple teaching stories that I’ve always related to, both personally and as an aid in serving others, is that of the hand as symbol of the family. This was taught to me by a Navaho healer, a “diagnostician” (a crystal gazer, to be exact).

The index finger is symbolic of the mother (pointing the way); the middle finger represents the father (central to family cohesion); the ring and little fingers are children, and the thumb is symbolic of “the child that goes off alone.”

One of six children, I was certainly the ‘thumb’ in my family of origin, the only one, for instance, to go to college, the only one to stray from the amber-mythic (and fundamentalist) religion, the only one to move half-way across the country from the “homestead,” and I could list a half-dozen other significant examples of my ‘thumb-ness.’

What follows, you may not want to read until after you’ve considered the question from your own inner arisings. But these are some of the ways I’ve looked at thumb-ness, and I offer them to stimulate thought and imagination and conversation.

  1. Looking at the hand itself, with fingers spread wide, and also with fingers held close together, what comes to mind?

  2. Considering thumb-ness, the thumb person, from all 4 quadrants: For instance, UL-- interior feelings, cognition, life intentions (“dreams”), etc (Many if not most people have felt they were “different” from other members of their family, have felt their own uniqueness, but the other three quadrants, I think, flesh out thumb-ness in quite specific ways.) So: UR – observable “facts,” like genetics, traits and behaviors LL-- for instance, within the family of origin culture, were your values different? your dress? food preferences? religion/spirituality? music preferences? types of friends? etc And what influences, even in early childhood, from the culture at large might I have been exposed to that other family members weren’t? LR – educational, medical differences? economic differences in adulthood? do psychological studies in birth order figure in? does generation theory?

  3. I’ve also considered my own thumb-ness in a metaphorical way from the point of view of biological evolution of the hand, and thumb. Considered the human’s closest primate ancestor, the chimpanzee had curved, elongated fingers and a relatively tiny thumb. Over millions of years, the story goes, the human fingers became shorter and the thumb became larger, more “meaty” and muscled, and also “opposable,” meaning the pad of the thumb could touch the finger pads. Science generally agrees evolution of the human thumb/hand is connected to “tool behavior.” And theorizes this tool behavior is of two primary types: the “precision grip” (as in gripping a tennis ball, or in earlier times, perhaps a rock), and the power “squeeze” grip (as in gripping the handle of a tennis racquet, or in earlier times, perhaps a club). How, I’ve asked myself, have I been a “tool” in service to my family of origin, and also, how has my family of origin used me as a tool, for better or worse? And variations on this question, such as: how have I helped them “get a grip” and vice-versa.

How do you understand “thumb-ness” in yourself or perhaps even in a child you might have? Do you know of studies on this subject? Do reincarnation theories come into play? Thank you!


I used to love going to the zone and mocking the apes by touching my thumb to my other fingers. Bet they wish they had one of these babies! But later I heard that the evolution of human hands was only possible because of front limbs were freed up by standing vertically as we walked around. This vertical move depends on a shift of weight that counterbalances our upper body. Basically it depends on the size, shape and utilization of our ass. This is what sets the hands free to evolve into more precise and nuanced manipulators of objects and environments… and then our mental hands to manipulate concepts and experiences… and then our wholistic hand-selves to be the thumbs that touch and enable all the other “fingers” in our community, our lives and the Great Spiral.

So… I was probably the ass of my family…


Yes, I think you probably were the ass, the smart ass, emphasis on smart…I think :slightly_smiling_face:
I of course knew everything you just said…
But I REALLY appreciated you giving the hands the developmental treatment. You’re good at that.