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Left-handed person in a right-handed world

By Donna Feigum of Glenwood

Being left-handed is someone who uses their left hand for most activities. A right-handed person would use their right hand. 

There have been times down through the centuries when left-handed people were thought to be unclean or even witches! Some terms used for those who favor their left hand include Goofy Footed, Cuddy Wifter, Southpaw, Sinister (Latin for left), and Molly Dooker (Australian slang term).

Chairs like this are not designed for left-handed folks. Contributed photo

The term “southpaw” also refers to a left-handed boxer who leads with the right. It has also been used to refer to a baseball pitcher. To be left-handed, southpaw means to use the wrong hand for something. It is the term most used today. If that is the hand that works the best doing something, how can it be the “wrong” hand?

Ten percent of the world is left-handed. That may not seem like a very large percentage, but when you are left-handed it can be. 

Left-Handers Day was first observed in 1976 by founder Dean R. Campbell. Aug. 13 was set aside in 1992 in the United Kingdom as “International Left-Handers Day.” The day was meant to “increase public awareness of the advantages and disadvantages of being left-handed.”

The highest rates of left-handedness are found in North America, western Europe, Australia and New Zealand. The lowest rates (4-6 percent) are found in Africa, Asia and South America. Twenty two percent of twins are left-handed. In the non-twin population, the number is just under 10 percent.

Handedness, like many aspects of human behavior, is influenced by genetics, environment and chance. Up to 40 genes contribute to which hand you will use dominantly. The National Institute of Health has said that hand preference is developed before birth and is seen in early childhood. The right hemisphere of the brain controls the left side of the body. The saying that left-handed people are in their right mind is true!

Left-handers’ DNA markers have found that they may be better at language than others. Maybe that is why some of our great writers down through the generations were “southpaws.” I love to write also – letters as well as stories.

Shaking hands with someone is done with your right hand. Most people wave “goodbye” with their right hand. Arm wrestling is always done right-handed. Most often when you are asked to vote by raising a hand, most people raise their right hand. In a courtroom, your right hand must be raised to be sworn in on the witness stand.

If you are right-handed, you will chew your food on your right side. If you are left-handed, you tend to chew your food on your left side. I wonder who and how they figured that out?

There are many items that only work with your right hand. Most power tools, such as chain saws, are made to be handled with your right hand. Knives and many cutting tools are also made that way.

Guns work the best in your right hand. Spent shells eject to the right so if it is in your left hand, the empty shells fly across your face as they are ejected. They do make guns for left-handed use, but I don’t have any. I shoot my husband’s 22 but am careful about not getting hit by an empty cartridge.

It can be hard to find a left-handed ball mitt. It would be worn on your right hand, leaving your left hand free to throw the ball. I catch balls left-handed, but I bat right-handed. Many professional ball players bat left-handed and there are many left-handed pitchers.

Computer use is geared to the right-handed person. I have adjusted to use a mouse even though it is “backwards” for me. Over the years, the left-handed struggle has become easier with social media, web resources and products that are designed to help the left-handed community.

Coffee cups can be used with either hand, but that doesn’t mean you will be able to read the writing on it or see the design on it. Most cups do not look like the one at the right side of this page.

Many musical instruments do not perform well for left-handed people. Famous guitar player Jimi Hendrix was left-handed but played a right-handed guitar. My granddaughter plays a flute in her school band. All the students face one direction – to the right. I asked her what would happen if someone was left-handed and needed to face the other way. She was not sure how to answer that question.

Walking down the hall, climbing stairs or driving, you are taught to stay on the right. I am sure this is good for traffic safety. It doesn’t seem to be a problem for right- or left-handed people.

Lefties, as we are sometimes called, are better drivers according to a study from the Center for Handedness Research and the Zebra. The study looked at the driving habits and accident rates of 1,500 drivers over a period of 10 years. Left-handed drivers had fewer accidents.

When driving you almost always yield to the right-of-way. This is not true in a roundabout. You must look left and yield to any vehicle that is coming from your left. Roundabouts are becoming very popular instead of stop signs at a 4-way traffic intersection. It keeps traffic moving and is supposed to cut down on accidents.

Mugs like this one have fun with our right-hand dominated society. Contributed photo

Spiral notebooks are a different challenge. The spiral on the left side makes it hard for left-handed people to write in them.

Songs and dances that require actions are harder for left-handed people to perform correctly. I could not figure out why a relative and I were always turning to the left when we were dancing the “Chicken Polka” when everyone else went to the right. She was also left-handed and that just seemed like the correct way to turn – for us!

“Left-handed people are more affected by fear.” It seems to me that this statement would be hard to prove true or false. We are all afraid at some time in our lives. I don’t like heights and I have a fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of my mouth – Arachibutyrophobia!

Many people who use their left hand to write curl their hand up above the line they are writing on.  Michael Landon, the actor, did this in order to see what he is writing. I do not write like that, but the slant of my letters is to the left. When I taught grade school students could copy what I wrote on the chalkboard faster because I was not standing in front of what was written.

My son, when he was learning to write, could not understand why he couldn’t do it with his left hand as I did.

There are many famous actors, actresses, singers and painters who are “southpaws”: Tim Allen, Victor French, Robert Redford, Melissa Sue Anderson, Mark Hammel, Mark Wahlberg, Dean Martin, Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, Julia Roberts, Lady Gaga, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo.

If you are a lefty, you probably can name many more. We tend to look closer at hand use than right-handed people.

I am sure there are many more but let’s move on to more important people in history – presidents of the United States. Eight out of 46 presidents have been left-handed. That is almost 18%. James Garfield, Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama.

One of the four Apollo astronauts was left-handed, 250 percent more lefties than the normal probability for the group. Does this suggest that lefties are smarter, more ambitious, or more driven to succeed?

Life can be hard growing up in a right-handed world. Just think about how many things in day-to-day living are really made for right-handed people. As the years go by, more left-handed items are available. When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s I did not have the chance to use a left-handed scissor. To this day I cannot use one. I had to learn to adapt! For some reason this is no big deal. You do your best, hope no one is watching, and move on.

I attended a small high school with 36 students in my class. There were seven left-handed students, six boys and me. In music class we sat in the “band room” folding chairs and attached removable arm trays to do our work on. There were six left-handed trays and the boys made sure they got them before I could get to them. In the other classrooms, many of the desks also had an arm tray on them. You would slide into the desk from the left side but the “arm tray” used for writing was across the entire front of the seat.

I am very artistic. I draw and paint pictures. And I now add writing to my list. I have a friend who is left-handed and can play almost any instrument. Her youngest daughter is also left-handed and very musical. Studies have found evidence linking left-handedness and intellectual creativity – art and music.

Throughout history left-handed people have been looked down on, thinking there was something wrong with them. There is no such thing as right and wrong – it is right and left when referring to handedness!

“Choose right or you will be left behind” is not worded properly. It should be “choose correctly.” It seems that there are a lot of sayings with left and right that need to be changed! Not all left-handed issues affect all left-handed people.

I hope the thoughts and ideas presented here have given you something to contemplate. There are more of us than you may think.

I’m left-handed.  What’s your superpower?

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