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The 'Knitting Lady' Is a Surgeon and She's Paying Attention! Or is she?

May 08, 2020 by Eileen Adler

A bit of background: Nick Mulcahy reported in Medscape tht Dr. Rhea Liang, a surgeon specializing in breast cancer, was participating in a “wool craft” during a conference and the headline was “The knitting lady isn’t paying attention” to which she responded to on Twitter: “1.) I’m a surgeon; 2.) It’s crochet, not knitting; 3.) I haven’t taken my eyes off you. Why don’t you pick on the guy next to me playing on his phone?”

A tweetstorm whirlwind of responses erupted. Dr. Kathleen Wild from the University of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, wrote: “Knitting helps me pay attention to what’s going on, if I wasn’t knitting, I’d be daydreaming!” Another comment reflected the same message: “I’m able to better pay attention to you because I’m knitting . . . not in spite of it.”

Dr. Liana Clark attempted to explain why knitting is looked down on, "It's just the culture. Knitting seems unserious.” Dr. Liang explained it this way: “Manual crafting or handiwork is perceived as a female thing. I think what the presenter conveyed was — I am uncomfortable that one in the audience is doing a generally female activity, and added in jest, “practicing a golf swing would have been more acceptable.’”

Text Box: Knitting with needles

One might take offence at someone engaged in something else while listening, but we know that some people are on their phones or laptops, some are doodling, some are pen-tapping, or engaging in any number of so-called “off-task” behaviors. What the science is proving definitively is that when our hands are involved in a repetitive physical activity, cognition is enhanced.  “We don’t advance one group by disparaging another – and that applies far beyond gender to other types of diversity too. . . there’s room for EVERYONE at this table,” Dr. Liang states.

Maria Montessori (1870-1952) graduated with honors from the University of Rome in 1896 and became the first female doctor in Italy. She discovered that hands-on manipulatives improved the acquisition of learning immeasurably, noting that learning through our senses makes all the difference. It has been said of her that she reimagined how we learn and provided an educational system that honored all learning styles.

It appears that when we are immersed in an activity that is purposeful and meaningful, our neurological system is activated and so enhances our well-being. We get into the flow and can pay attention as we listen, manipulating our hands as we absorb information.

Self-care Ritual: If yarn crafting is not your thing, find a hobby that is! The message here is to find an activity that is mentally stimulating for you and that you enjoy.