Treating lefties with understanding and respect
Being left-handed is like being in a secret club. We have our own bizarre initialization rituals, such as learning how to write “the wrong way.” We pay our dues every day, in terms of the extra effort that we must make to live in a right-handed world. When we encounter another lefty, we immediately have something in common.
The club is shrouded in secrecy, because we rarely mention the topic to our right-handed friends. But as we know that the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, we can say that only left-handed people are in their right mind.
Today is International Left-handers Day, and was first observed in 1976. As its name suggests, it is meant to promote awareness of the inconveniences facing left-handers in a predominantly right-handed world. It is a day to celebrate their uniqueness and difference, which are about 10-12% of the world’s population.
The word left in English comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lyft, which means weak or broken. Rampant cultural differences have imbued us with the notion that left equals bad.
The English word “sinister,” for example, is derived from the Latin for “left-hand side.” In French, gauche means left and, of course, awkward, clumsy, unlucky, insincere, malicious, and socially unrefined.
Being out in left field is not good, and neither is having “two left feet.” Left-handedness has long been associated with Satanic influences and witchcraft and a “left-handed compliment” is actually an insult. In the Bible, the blessed are always sitting at the right hand of God, never the left. The right hand is mentioned positively 100 times in the Bible, while the left hand is mentioned only 25 times, all negatively.
Then there are the practical biases, a regular source of inconvenience, frustration and, sometimes, peril to left-handers.
Try opening a tin can with a manual tin opener using your left hand -- your arms will be crossed, and you’re likely to cut yourself on the lid. Hold a measuring cup with your left hand -- the fractional amounts will be facing unhelpfully away from you.
Think: Circular saws, electric drills, chainsaws, surgical instruments, even firearms and holsters. All designed primarily for righties. And computer keyboards are made for righties -- even though Bill Gates is left-handed!
Until very recently in Taiwan, left-handed people were strongly encouraged to switch to being right-handed (or at least, switch to writing and eating with the right hand).
It is more difficult to write legible Chinese characters with the left hand than it is to write Latin letters. Remember that “easy” and “difficult” depend on the person using those terms, so your writing may be neater.
Because it is supposedly easier to write when moving your hand towards its side of the body, it is easier to write the Roman alphabet with your right hand than with your left. Conversely, Arabic and Hebrew, which go from right to left, would be easier to write with the left hand. Again, “easier” and “harder” are subjective.
It is possible that sun worship relates to the association of the left with evil. People in the northern hemisphere, looking south, would see the sun rise on their left, move rightwards across the sky, and set on their right.
In the southern hemisphere the opposite happens. Among cultures from the southern hemisphere, right-handedness is still dominant. No study on left-side connotations from those cultures has been done.
However, since most sun-worshipping cultures see the setting sun as it dying or vanishing, the right side would indicate the negative associations associated with a setting sun. This is the opposite trend from that.
It is interesting to list some of the famous, past and present, who are/were left-handed. Artists and innovators such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Henry Ford, and Isaac Newton. Musicians such as Eminem, Paul MacCartney, Paul Simon, and Jimi Hendrix. Actors and entertainers Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, Julia Roberts, Diane Keaton, Robert de Niro, Keanu Reeves, Robert Redford, Tom Cruise. Even the famous right-handed cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar, writes left-handed. And famous footballer Pele is a lefty; so was Diego Maradona.
A number of American presidents have been or are left-handed, including Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George Bush (senior), Bill Clinton and, more recently, Barack Obama.
British royalty has the left-handed gene, from Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, George VI, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, and Prince William.
There is, almost continuously, it seems, research on left-handedness. Some of the findings are:
Handedness can be seen from ultrasounds during third trimester of pregnancy
Studies show that premature babies or those with low Apgar scores are more likely to be left-handed
Lefthanders are more likely to be dyslexic or stutter (Note: This writer, as a young boy, developed a stuttering problem and that is why he speaks so slowly now! The stuttering was caused by a primary school teacher in the 1950s tying my left hand behind my back). Left-handers are slightly more prone to allergies and asthma than right-handers are
Among military lefties are: Alexander the Great, Winston Churchill, Admiral Lord Nelson, and Napoleon Bonaparte.
Mahatma Gandhi was left-handed too.
It is hoped that all left-handers celebrate their uniqueness on August 13, and that right-handers will show them more understanding and respect!
Last, but not least, one of the most well known “left” politicians, Fidel Castro, was left-handed and celebrated his birthday on August 13!
Julian Francis has worked, written and typed left-handedly for many years in Bangladesh and, since the Liberation War, has been encouraging the few left-handers in Bangladesh to assert their uniqueness in their very right-handed world. Email: [email protected]