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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

In Other Words: On The Prejudice and “Disease” Of Being Left Handed




Let me say up front that I am left handed. My parents never tried to make me right handed — except once. I wanted a guitar but my predilection was to hold it like Jimi Hendrix. But my mother insisted that I hold it right handed. After quite a bit of struggle, I succeeded and I admit it has saved me lots of money since left handed guitars are generally more expensive and hard to find. 

Recently, I ran across a 1935 booklet entitled The Prevention and Correction of Left-Handedness in Children by J W Conway. One of his arguments was that a left preference would interfere with the burgeoning industrialism of the country. It would muck up things in the factories if everyone were not the same. He considered it a disease. Poor guy.  He was the victim of historic superstition.

Elementary teachers encouraged me to use my right hand, but not one really forced it. A good friend at another elementary school told me how his teachers tied his left hand behind his back to force him to use his right hand. He rebelled. And in brilliant problem solving style, he showed up at school the next day wearing a heavy bandage on his right hand claiming some injury. He wore that every day for weeks. Eventually the teacher gave up and he was allowed to use his left and proper hand. I’ve heard lots of stories like this. Every left-handed person has. 

My left hand was perpetually smudged. As my hand moved across the page it dragged over the words wet with ink. So many assignments looked like the words were racing off the page. Entire paragraphs looked like some sort of funhouse mirror full of distorted curves. So I had to lift my hand slightly, shift the paper, and twist my posture a bit to make things a bit more legible. It was elementary primitive problem solving. I still failed Penmanship. 

My grandfather was left-handed. I only knew him as Grandpa Lefty. Years later I learned that we shared the same first name. He taught me how to hold and work a pencil since my right-handed parents were at a deficit. After Grandpa Lefty died I was on my own. I developed ways to look at right-handed visual instructions as if through a mirror to reverse the image. My brain had to constantly reverse an image, interpret it, and then produce it appropriately.  

I adapted but I also saw the absurdity of many right handed influences. So much of the world is unknowingly geared to righties. That’s understandable since they claim a 90% majority. There  were those awful spiral notebooks. They clearly favor righties. My left hand would scrape over that wire binding and mess up my already messed up handlefting. The page was littered with bumps, scrapes, smears, and the occasional legible word. That was until I read about Leonardo DaVinci. 

DaVinci, a lefty, wrote from right to left and backwards as a security measure. A person needed a mirror to read his notes. So I began my notes at the end of the notebook and worked my way forward. Eventually legal pads replaced the standard college ruled spiral notebook.  Life became a bit easier, but I still had to sit in those awful right handed school desks and contort in order to write. I loved it when the seat to my left was open so I could pull that desk over and have a makeshift lefty desk. Eventually, student desks became neutral and larger and that was a blessing.

The history of being left-handed, being the odd man out, is fascinating. The proper term is sinistral from the Latin for sinister. Yup. Evil. That’s uplifting, isn’t it? Being right handed is dexterous. So if you are ambidextrous then you have two right hands but can you be ambisinistral? I kind of wish that term would catch on.  

Language taints lefties with such colorful terms as left handed compliment, having two left feet, and the French gave us gauche. Culture portrays lefties in art and history as evil or being witches. But we have an upper hand (See what I did there?) in sports. 

Southpaws are roughly 10% of any given population. And it seems to be a consistent percentage. So nature must have a reason for it. I have no idea what it is but I’m willing to offer an idea. 

Lefties see the world a bit differently so they often become influential leaders. They see the world a bit differently. In fact, five recent US presidents (both parties, by the way) were left handed. Why? There really hasn’t been much consistent research in this but I will proffer that they have unique problem solving skills. 


So much of the world is unknowingly geared to righties. That’s understandable. For instance, my right handed wife wanted a new kitchen faucet. It’s a beautiful faucet - but it’s right handed. The controls rest on the right side and my tendency is to cross over with my left hand usually creating a splash. And chain saws are right oriented — a bit more dangerous than a faucet. 

But we learn to adapt. And that’s our superpower. Want to see the world a bit differently? Take a step to the left and see the world through a left lens. Look more closely at your left-handed friends to see how they adapt to everyday tasks. They are creative problem solvers. And I’ll bet they have a an offbeat sense of humor to boot.

 Yes, being left-handed presents challenges but dealing with and overcoming those challenges early establishes a unique problem solving ability that will suit them and the world well. So I raise my smudged left hand in solidarity with my fellow sinistral brothers and sisters. 

In the long run handedness is much ado about nothing which is, in the grander historical context, wonderful. The prejudices of old against lefties are pretty much gone, but some frustrations still exist. Now let’s get on to ridding our world of other nonsensical prejudices born out of superstition. 

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