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A Left-Hander's World
BY LEFTY JONATHAN F
Table of Contents:
While at first glance, left-handedness is not an obvious social issue, it is in fact a daily concern for the left-handed segment of the population. Depending on the source, Lefties represent anywhere from 10 to 30% of the population, although most surveys indicate a statistic of plus or minus 12%. While Lefties do represent a sizable portion of our community, they are often forgotten, and their needs not considered in this right-handed world.
The goal of my project is to visit a Left-Hander’s world, expose the daily difficulties and challenges specific to Lefties, and address three primary areas of interest: Culture, Product Design, and Science.
(Actually, I wrote this myself, but I wanted to sound dramatic...)
Left-handedness is a quirk of birth, something rooted in the DNA. It is a way of life for Lefties, and a subject we know relatively little about. We live in an era where diversity is a priority, and we are encouraged to respect others and celebrate differences. What more perfect time for greater understanding and appreciation of Lefties?
Background and Culture
Historically, Lefties have not been well received. While left-handedness is a quirk of birth, parents and cultures have often been ashamed of a left-handed child, and/or tried to forcefully convert him/her to right-handedness. Evidence of anti-left-handedness is ubiquitous. Left-handed children were/are often not allowed to use their preferred hand, and in fact have been forced to write, eat, and perform all activities with their right hand. This is a major psychological and social issue for Lefties, who have often developed emotional insecurities, stutters, dyslexia, and other serious consequences, as a result of being forced to the right.
The Latin word for right is dexter. From this root, we have words such as dexterity and dexterous, which are defined as demonstrating skill with the hands. A person who writes equally well with his/her left and right hands is considered ambidextrous, or from the root, having two rights.
The Latin root for left is sinistra, from which we derive sinister, indicating that Lefties are bad or evil.
The English roots for left and right are also biased. Left has Germanic origins and means weak, while right derives from the Latin root rectus meaning straight. From the same root, we also derive the secondary meaning of right, implying correct or morally good. While Righties were considered morally righteous, Lefties were considered to be weak and evil. Left-handed actions and behavior were to be eliminated, and not tolerated, even considered taboo.
This anti-left bias is world-wide. From Muslim countries to Latin America, and even in The United States, children are forced to abandon their left-handedness, are made to feel inferior and ashamed for being left-handed. This can cause serious emotional trauma and impair normal functions for the Leftie. Even those Lefties who are not forced to the right are inconvenienced daily by products designed with only the Rightie in mind. It is important that the world be educated about Lefties, since they do in fact represent 12% of the population.
What is a Leftie?
This is a surprisingly hard question to answer. Several tests have been created to determine someone's hand preference, through a series of questions, with the hand determination then based on a majority of the subject’s answers. Unfortunately, these tests are flawed, as many people are partially mixed-handed, or can perform certain tasks equally well with both hands. Furthermore, certain operations are usually considered more important in determining hand preference than others. For instance, it would seem logical that writing is a better indicator of hand preference than how someone sweeps the floor. Most examinations do not weigh one operation over another. I believe that being a Leftie is more deep-rooted than how one writes, or opens a jar, or swings a bat. Left-handedness is about personal self-identification. David Wolman, the author of a Left-hand Turn Around the World, considers left-handedness to be like a religion. When Lefties meet and discover that they share the same hand preference, they form an indefinable bond. For Righties, the connection that Lefties share, and our insistence in constantly pointing out our hand preference might seem strange and overdone. This is because Righties often do not understand what it is like to be a Leftie, and they are not cognizant of all the things Lefties have to do differently.
Who Are We?
Depending on the particular survey, Lefties represent anywhere from 9-30% of the world’s population. However, the most reliable data suggests that Lefties really account for 10-13%, with Righties representing the majority (88-90%) of society. This disparity is attributable to the fact that there is no effective means to reliably measure “handedness,” since many people perform tasks with both hands, or with their non-dominant hand. These mixed-handers are often either omitted from surveys or counted in the category in which they show a slight preference.
(NB: Mixed-handers are not ambidextrous, as someone who is truly ambidextrous performs every task equally well with both hands. Ambidextrous people represent only 0.1% of society, and therefore are not visible on this graph.
Despite our small numbers, Lefties have reached extraordinary heights, and have excelled in and dominated virtually every field of endeavor.
To name a just a few:
Alexander the Great
Sir Isaac Newton
Ludwig von Beethoven
Leonardo da Vinci
Dr. Nicholas Cofod
Jonathan Ira Fudem
What Is So Different?
Lefties approach simple tasks and manage basic actions differently, often opposite “or backwards” from Righties, which is part of socialization/culture. Some of these actions include:
• Shaking Hands
• Passing People (in hallways/on sidewalks)
• Accepting Change/Receipts
• Giving Directions
• Preferring to Walk/Sit on Left
• Turning Handles
• Locking/Unlocking Doors
• Hanging Apparel
• Tieing Knots/Tieing Shoelaces
• Perusing a Book – Back to Front vs. Front to Back
• USING A COMPUTER MOUSE (Why can Lefties can use right-
handed and left-handed mouses, but Righties can’t use left-handed devices??? ARRRGH!!!)
Did you know there actually is a day dedicated to the greatness of all things Leftie? Officially, August 13 is Left-hander's Day, yet it is rarely celebrated, which is why I propose several adjustments:
1. Left-hander's Day should be taken more seriously. Imagine a day where everything is done Leftie style. People would greet each other by shaking with the left hand; pass each other in hallways on the left; switch all computer mouses to the left side; cut with left-handed scissors, and drive on the left side of the road. All words such as sinister, dexterous, ambidextrous, and right would be BANNED from use.
Wouldn't this be awesome?!
2. August 13 is a terrible date for Left-handers Day. It was chosen solely because it was the founder's birthday (hubris?). I propose the new date be the first Wednesday in May, for several reasons:
- May is in the spring, everyone loves the spring
- Placing the holiday during the traditional school year would help educate the populace and popularize the holiday until it becomes a national event
- Since the holiday falls on a Wednesday, schools and jobs would attach the neighboring Thursday and Friday in order to continue your personal celebration.
- No other holidays are on Wednesday
- This date is much closer to My Birthday, May 7
This goes without saying.
Lefties are often forgotten during the process of product design and many common commodities are incredibly difficult, or impossible to use. Obviously, no developer wants to alienate 12% of the prospective customer base, and yet many items are not “Leftie-Compatible.” This stems from a lack of consideration of “Southpaws.” It is time that the world recognizes that products need to be Leftie-Compatible.
Lefties face unexpected challenges with many mundane products:
• Spiral-bound notebooks with the hard metal rings on the left
• Right-handed student desks
• Camera control buttons
• Curved computer mouses
• Watch crowns (knob to set time)
• Serrated knife blades
What makes Lefties Left-handed?
Why are there so many more Righties than Lefties?
Are Lefties really more creative and why?
These questions are Difficult to answer, as conclusive research is very limited. The truth is, Scientists are not exactly sure what designates hand preference and there is little research into the science of laterality. Unlocking the mystery behind handedness could provide crucial insight into the history of our species, the study of genetics, and the human brain. Such knowledge could potentially lead to cures, treatment, and prevention of diseases. The scientific community needs to place a stronger emphasis on laterality, if we wish to understand more about ourselves and our place in society.
Let’s Dive In
Humans are not the only beings to display hand preferences. Chimpanzees and other primates also show dominance of one hand over another. The difference is that while other animals have hand preference split 50-50 between the Left and Right, humans have extreme bias toward the right. Unlike the brains of chimpanzees, human brains have a large area, known as the Broca Region, located on the left side of the brain. Since the left side of the of the brain controls the right side of the body and visa-versa, scientists believe that as the ability for speech developed, it caused neurological focus to shift almost completely to the left side of the brain. As a side effect, hand preference became biased toward the right. It is interesting that not everyone’s speech center is located on the left side. While 99% of Righties have their speech center on their left side of the brain, only 70% of Lefties do. For both Lefties and Righties, this is a majority, but a considerably greater percent of Lefties have their speech center in the right hemisphere. This information supports the notion that handedness and speech are directly correlated.
Furthermore, research suggests that 10% of Lefties suffer from language and reading disorders such as dyslexia, compared to only 1% of Righties, further tying brain/hand preference and laterality bias to speech development. ==
===When I first announced that my topic for the Inquiry Project was Left-handedness, my teachers and friends were skeptical. How could Left-handedness possibly be a social issue? I hope that by reading my project, you have a better idea of what Lefties have to face everyday, from prejudices to exclusively right-handed products. Yet, in my opinion, the relevance of Left-handedness as an issue is less about Left-handed discrimination or disadvantages, and more about better understanding. The goal of my project is to shine a light on a small segment of the population that is often forgotten. As you leave, I ask that once in a while you recognize the 12% of the population that is often unremembered, and try to understand what it would be like in a Left-hander’s World.
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