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In Appreciation of Left-Handers

By Tony Moir

I’m a left-handed person, as are about 10% of the people on the planet.

Some things attributed to this group are supported by research that proves it, and some are just “folk wisdom.” What may hold true for one person may not for another. Everyone is also affected by their environment. Growing up lefty might have something to do with that. Lefties may, however, think differently. The world isn’t designed as a left-handed-friendly place; since the right-handed are the vast majority, utensils, scissors, and other items are designed for and by them. Lefties, therefore, must think flexibly and come up with their own ways to use those tools. The myth is that this makes us more intelligent, but further studies have shown that this adaptation just means that we learn different strategies and are just a normal group of people.

However, lefties haven’t always been considered a normal variation. Myths abound, some unfounded and silly, such as the belief that left-handed people think with the right side of their brain (disproven: not only are there not two distinct “sides” of the brain because that vastly simplifies brain processing, but studies have shown that this means that both left- and right-handed people use different parts of both hemispheres at all times). Another is that lefties are more creative, out-of-the-box thinkers, which isn’t true, generally, although there have been studies suggesting that men seem to have a slightly higher ability to be creative when problem-solving, possibly because of the challenges in using items designed for right-handed people. But the fact that women show roughly the same abilities regardless of handedness, as well as the fact that the difference with regard to men is relatively small, shows that it isn’t universal and requires more proof. Some characteristics that have been attributed to lefties, though, are less benign.

The derivation of the words used, at least in most Latin languages, and the cultural baggage attached to them has caused suspicion of (and often problems for) lefties. The word for “right” usually also means “correct,” or “proper,” while “left” is usually connected with the opposite. “Left-handed compliments” and “gauche,” (the French word for left) are some examples of this biased thinking.

As left-handedness runs in families, I heard how my great-grandmother had her left hand tied to her chair so she would have to learn to write with her right hand. This sounds barbaric, but then again, from a practical standpoint, writing with pen and ink is always going to be difficult for lefties to do without smearing ink all over the paper and their hand when writing from left to right. I personally thought these corrective measures were mean, like singling out lefty scissors with green plastic instead of designing uni-hand scissors. At least, until the advent of erasable pens.

Why erasable pens? Because after they were introduced in 1979, I changed my way of writing temporarily. I used to turn the paper almost 90 degrees to write at an angle, which felt unnatural to me. But then I got an erasable pen. At first, I thought it was great. But soon, I looked at the side of my hand, and it was covered with blue ink. I realized that my writing was even more smeary, and it was nearly illegible. The nearly illegible part was normal, because that was my usual handwriting, but the rest actually made me wish for a second that I wrote right-handed.

The thing is, lefties do develop a set of ambidextrous abilities, usually out of necessity. I play sports right-handed, because the baseball gloves that were around when I was a kid were the right-handed ones I could borrow from friends and family. I play musical instruments right-handed because of a complicated set of circumstances that led to my first bass guitar being a right-handed one. Yet, I still do many things left-handed, because it’s my true nature. From time to time the ability to use your left hand in sports or other activities can be an advantage, usually because of its rarity. There is a belief in Major League Baseball, for example, that a decent left-handed relief pitcher will always find a good job, because they’re considered uncommonly valuable and necessary.

The increased awareness of left-handedness as a positive thing is behind the creation of International Left-Handers Day, which is held on August 13 every year. Silly, I know, but it’s actually kind of a good feeling to see the recognition and along with the events that are sometimes held, (usually in England for some reason, and also usually in pubs and bars,) that show the right-handed population how tough it would be for them to use left-handed versions of implements that are usually designed for right-handed people.

In any case, have a happy International Left-Handers Day. Celebrate by buying your favorite lefty a beer or a soda.

Tony Moir is a cyborg who holds world records in synchronized luge and panda steeplechase. Or maybe he isn’t. But he lives in San Francisco with his lovely wife and three outstanding sons.

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About Tony Moir (32 Articles)
Tony Moir may or may not be one of your favorite writers. It depends. It depends on many things, not the least important is your personal taste in writing. Although if you were to give him a list of requirements, it is possible he could change, or maybe not, I’m not sure. In any case, he is thinking about it.

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