You may think this is a post about politics, but –au contraire- I’m tackling an even larger issue, one I’ve dealt with quite normally my whole life, yet the world somehow still finds an oddity?! I am left-handed, and so are my mom and both of my sisters. In fact, the only one left out was my dad, because he was a righty.
I decided to share my thoughts on this apparently “complicated” topic, because of stories like these below that appear in the news media, like clockwork, every August 13 – also known as International Left-Handers Day.
- Why are People Left-Handed? from Newsweek: http://time.com/4451303/international-left-handers-day-why-are-people-left-handed/
- Lefties Face Psychological Battles, But Are More Creative Thinkers – from Medical Daily: http://www.medicaldaily.com/international-left-handers-day-2016-lefties-face-psychological-battles-are-394785
- Left-Handers Day: Celebrate Your Right to be a lefty – from Atlanta’s NBC-affiliate 11Alive: http://www.11alive.com/news/local/left-handers-day-celebrate-your-right-to-be-a-lefty/296835526
- International Left-Handers Day is today, so here’s everything you need to know – from the UK’s Daily Mirror, a national tabloid: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/international-left-handers-day-today-8608381
- On Left-Handers Day: A New Bill of Rights – or Lefts – for Aggrieved Southpaws – from the Washington Post and actually written by a left-hander: http://time.com/4451303/international-left-handers-day-why-are-people-left-handed/
First of all, it is a very safe bet that MOST articles about handedness – the left hand, in particular – are written by people who are left-brained righties. Why do they care so much about us? Is it because we are more creative, more adaptable, more talented? Is it that they think there is something actually wrong with us? Or, is it because we lefties really aren’t even a tiny bit interested in why they aren’t left-handed, too?
For example, the Newsweek piece cites “getting elbowed at dinner” as a disadvantage to being left-handed. Um, as a very young child I had the cognitive ability to realize that if there was a righty to my left at the table, I just switched hands and used my right, too – to put them more at ease, of course. I even learned to bat right-handed in softball because that was the way my dad taught me. Yet, I drew the line at throwing and catching. I threw left-handed and caught with my right, and even in 7th-8th grade had one of the best arms in my Catholic grade school – I suppose that’s why they had me in the outfield. The first time I tried batting left-handed, when I played in a league for work, it came as naturally as blinking my eye. Go figure!
To that Medical Daily article linked above, I say hooey! Again, it is just a right-handed attempt to besmirch and belittle left-handers – or the parents of left-handers – into thinking there is somehow something inherently wrong with a “left” hand choice.
Good grief people – it’s 2016!! I shake my head every time I read that garbage and wonder if we’ve been magically transported back in time to when a certain medical practice was all the rage – yes, I’m referring to leeches, which date back to at least 1600-1300 B.C. In a world that is overly sensitive on any number of topics these days, we are still trying to figure out what makes left-handers tick?
I grew up in a family where 4 out of the 5 of us were left-handed. I also went to Catholic School, where the nuns were quite insistent that if you were going to write with your left hand, by God’s will you were going to do it with correct hand placement! My mother remembers getting her knuckles cracked with a ruler by the nuns when she was young. I don’t remember a ruler, but I do remember getting pencil marks on the side my hand as I wrote with fat pencils seemingly too big for my small fingers. My teacher in 1st and 2nd grade was Sister Patricia and, like all nuns before her, she too insisted on proper penmanship – even with a left hand. Thanks to these Catholic teachers, my mom and I have perfect hand placement on a sheet of paper when we write. My two sisters, on the other hand, have the sort of oft-seen “curled” hand placement when writing, and I had long wondered why. One of them shared with us in recent years that it was because she was rebelling against conformity (i.e. Sister Patricia). I suppose there will always be a rebel in any group!
So, here’s a question that has often crossed my mind. If only 10% of the world is actually left-handed and 4-of-5 people in my immediate family are lefties, along with several other great uncles, aunts and cousins, what does that do to all those “official statistics” other than skew them, and add additional weight to the “genetic trait” side of the debate. Yes, that means a left-handed preference is no different than whether you have red, brown, black or brown hair with blue, green or brown eyes.
Why does it have to be any more “complicated” than that?!
Mankind didn’t understand genetics or even have a means to map chromosomes way, way, way back when. For centuries, religion, myth and custom conspired to form a negative perception of those guided by the right side of their brains. From left-handed compliments to a left-handed oath and being out in left field, long-suffering southpaws have had to endure the discrimination of living in an overly right-handed world.
Researchers, scientists, teachers and parents have long debated whether left-handedness is a god-given gift or an abnormality that needs to be corrected. The controversy goes back centuries. The left side of anything has long been considered a bad omen, unlucky, evil and dirty. Ancient tarot cards and pictures often portrayed a left-handed Satan, who even plays his fiddle the “wrong” way. The devil and other “bad” influences appear on the left side of Jesus in many religious drawings and paintings. In 17th century America, the accused persons at the Salem witch trails were far more likely to be found guilty if they were left-handed.
On the other hand, the right side has always been portrayed as -and believed to be- lucky, good and correct: in short, normal. Even in more enlightened times, lefties have faced an uphill battle in learning to use everyday items, such as scissors, can openers, corkscrews, ladles, butter knives, spiral notebooks, camcorders, stringed instruments, and golf clubs – all of which were initially designed for use by right-handers.
I had grown up knowing that being left-handed was something completely normal. My mom and sisters were left handed, so why should it be otherwise? My dad was outnumbered! And, even more than being left-handed, I had been so adaptable as a child, that I was ambidextrous in many things, because of the ease with which I could switch to the other hand if needed. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how lucky and blessed I was.
While living and working in Munich, Germany, I got an assignment to write a story about left-handedness for an English-language monthly magazine, called Munich Found. There was someone they wanted me to talk to at an organization that had existed since 1985, the Beratungsstelle für Linkshänder und umgeschulte Linkshänder (Consulting Center for Left-Handers and Converted Left-Handers). This group had dedicated itself to correcting lifetimes of misgivings, misdeeds and misinformation. The center was financed by the city of Munich and, at the time, was the only one of its kind in Germany. Its mission was to counsel left-handers and their families, and provide information about left-handedness. The director, Dr. Johanna Barbara Sattler, was a psychologist who had written several books on the subject.
Sattler´s work had a personal as well as professional dimension: as a child she was forced to become right-handed. She believed that genetics determine whether a person is right-handed or left-handed, just as they determine whether a child will be a boy or a girl, short or tall, brown- or blue-eyed. Her research had shown that forcing someone to change their dominant hand – as was a common practice in many countries, including Germany – could do more harm than good.
But long-held beliefs and opinions are slow to change. Sattler told me then that left-handedness had only become socially acceptable in Germany in very recent decades. In her quest to find a prominent left-hander for the cover of her latest book at the time, Übungen für Linkshänder (Exercises for Left-Handers), she could find none in Germany. Instead, she enlisted the help of the White House. On the book’s jacket, a picture shows a left-hander holding a pen (with proper hand placement, of course!) and asks the question “Wem nur gehören diese Hände?” (Whose hands are these?). When opening the book, the reader found a photo of Bill Clinton, someone that Sattler described as good role model for what lefties can accomplish.
Dr. Sattler had told me that it was common for Germans to force left-handed children to switch to writing with their right hands, by tying their left hand behind their back. I know this to be true because my German boyfriend at the time told me that he was subjected to this cruel and unusual punishment. Dr. Sattler went further to share that in some Muslim countries, where the left hand is viewed as “unclean,” children’s hands were submerged in scalding water to force them against that hand choice.
At the time, I remember thinking, “Huh?!??” My childhood was filled and reinforced with the notion that left-handedness was absolutely normal and good – and in other countries that was happening??!
Even a cursory look at many of the world’s languages can illustrate how the cards have been stacked against left-handers through the ages. In French, left is gauche, or tactless. In Latin, left is sinister, whereas the Latin word for right, dexter, is the root of “dexterity” in English. In German, the contributions to prejudicial views of left-handedness abound! Left-handed in German is linkshändig, and link means double-crossing. The verb linken means to con, while linkisch is used to describe someone clumsy or awkward. Calling someone ein ganz linker Hund (a conniving dog) accuses that person of being a cheat; ein linkes Ding drehen is to do something dishonest. Mit dem linken Fuß zuerst aufgestanden describes getting up on the left foot, that is, on the wrong side of bed. Links liegengelassen, links bügeln, links tragen: these mean the item is either ignored, wrong side up, being ironed wrong side out, or being worn the wrong side out.
If you only used language as a guide, you are left with the undeniable impression that anything “left” is wrong, right? Unfortunately, today, left-handedness is still not fully accepted in many countries, and culture or belief still prompts parents and/or teachers to change a child’s hand preference.
One day, while sitting in a Gasthaus (restaurant) north of Munich, drinking a great German Bier and jotting notes, I actually heard a Bavarian at a giant wooden table say from across the room, “Kuck mal, ein Linkshaender!” (“Look, a left-hander”). Since there was no one else in the establishment other than me and the Gasthaus staff, I was really taken aback when I saw everyone at that table turn their heads to look my way! Really?! It had already been decades since U.S. astronauts had made “One Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Mankind” on the moon, and a table of 8-10 Germans was looking at me because I was – (gulp) – left-handed??!!! I knew then and there what a space alien must feel like after they drop in for a visit and make the front page of the National Enquirer! Of course, if that same scene had played out in the United States, the remark would have been “Look, a dog!” since my English Cocker Spaniel, Bo, was quietly sleeping at my feet under the table, a practice considered quite normal in Germany.
So, let’s move on, dear reader, and become enlightened – if you aren’t already!
Contrary to popular prejudice, southpaws are actually quite gifted. In general, they are individualistic, creative, intuitive, holistic and image-oriented. They are also strategic
thinkers. What’s more, they also have unusually good musical memories and are good at recalling pitch, and are prone to high IQs. And because of their exceptional sense of distance and proportion, lefties also excel in the fields of art and architecture.
Qualities like these can explain why so many left-handers -past and present- have risen to greatness and have undeniably “left” their mark on history.
Ask any left-hander and they’ll tell you that, when compared to our right-handed brethren, we are the ONLY ones in our right minds – and damn proud of it, too! But there are still some in society, who would probably prefer we “left” that unsaid – don’t you think?!
If you need any more evidence of the greatness, talents and accomplishments of left-handers, check out this amazing list of southpaws below. I had previously compiled a list for that German magazine article. I’ve now supplemented it with information compiled by Indiana University (their full list here).
Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II; Alexander the Great; Caesar; Joan of Arc; Charlemagne; King Louis XVI; Napoleon Bonaparte; Queen Victoria; King George II; King George VI; Prince Charles and Prince William; U.S. Presidents: James Garfield, Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama; Artists: Michelangelo; Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer, LeRoy Neiman, M.C.Escher, Hans Holbein, Paul Klee, and Raphael; Composers Philipp Emanuel Bach, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Maurice Ravel; Israeli prime ministers: Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Olmert; Writers and Novelists: Peter Benchley, Lewis Carroll, H.G Wells, Eudora Welty (to name a few); Benjamin Franklin; Albert Einstein; General H. Norman Schwarzkopf; David Rockefeller; Helen Keller; Clarence Darrow; Dr. Albert Schweitzer; August Piccard; Henry Ford; Buzz Aldrin; Journalists: Edward R. Murrow, Ted Koppel, Forrest Sawyer, David Broder, columnist Dave Barry, and sports broadcaster Vin Scully; Caroline Kennedy and brother John F. Kennedy, Jr.; Ron Reagan (son of the U.S. president); Cartoonist: Matt Groening and cartoon Bart Simpson; Puppeteer: Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog; Microsoft founder: Bill Gates; Musicians & Singers: Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Glen Campbell, Isaac Hayes, David Byrne, Kurt Cobain, Don and Phil Everly, Glenn Frey, Chuck Mangione, Errol Garner, Judy Garland, Melissa Manchester, Joe Perry, Crystal Gayle, Eric Gale, Paul Simon, Robert Plant, Billy Corgan, Cole Porter, Natalie Cole, Lou Rawls, Phil Collins, John Lydon a.k.a. Johnny Rotten, George Michael, Seal, Ringo Starr, Tiny Tim, Rudy Valee; Actors and Comedians: Charlie Chaplin, Robert Redford, Whoopi Goldberg, Emma Thompson, Don Adams, Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Albert, Tim Allen, June Allyson, Robert Blake, Matthew Broderick, Bruce Boxleitner,Carol Burnett, George Burns, Ruth Buzzi, Keith Carradine, Chuck Conners, James Cromwell, Tom Cruise, Quinn Cummings, Matt Dillon, Marty Engles, Olivia de Havilland and Robert DeNiro, Michael Dorn, Fran Drescher, Richard Dreyfuss, W.C. Fields, Peter Fonda, Greta Garbo, Terri Garr, Paul Michael Glaser, Betty Grable, Cary Grant, Peter Graves and Luke Skywalker himself – Mark Hamill, Rex Harrison, Goldie Hawn, Joey Heatherton, Tippi Hedren, Rock Hudson, Angelina Jolie, Gabe Kaplan, Danny Kaye, Diane Keaton, George Kennedy, Nicole Kidman and Lisa Kudrow, Michael Landon, Hope Lange, Joey Lawrence, Peter Lawford, Cloris Leachman, Hal Linden, Cleavon Little, Shirley MacLaine, Andrew McCarthy, Kristy McNichol, Steve McQueen, Howie Mandel, (mime) Marcel Marceau, Harpo Marx, Marsha Mason, Mary Stuart Masterson, Anne Meara, Robert Morse, Anthony Newley, Kim Novak, Ryan O’Neal, Sarah Jessica Parker, Estelle Parsons, Anthony Perkins, Ron Perlman, Luke Perry, Bronson Pinchot, Joe Piscopo, Robert Preston, Michael J. Pollard, Richard Pryor, Keanu Reeves, Don Rickles, Julia Roberts, Mickey Rourke, Eva Marie Saint, Telly Savalas, Jerry Seinfeld, Christian Slater, Dick Smothers, Rod Steiger, Alan Thicke, Rip Torn, Peter Ustinov, Brenda Vaccaro, Karen Valentine, Dick Van Dyke, James Whitmore, Treat Williams, Bruce Willis,William Windom, Oprah Winfrey, Mare Winningham, Joanne Woodward, Keenan Wynn, Stephanie Zimbalist, Jay Leno; Chef Paul Prudhomme; Athletes (partial list) – Soccer: Jans van Breukelen, Johan Cruyff, Willem van Hanegem, Pelé, Diego Maradona, Romario, Hugo Sanchez, Richard Witschge; Cricket: Alan Border, Alistair Campbell, Denis Compton, Saurav Ganguly, David Gower, Gary Sobers; Olympics: Francis Gorman and Greg Louganis (diving), Mark Spitz (swimming), Bruce Jenner (decathlon), Nikita Kohloff (wrestling), Dorothy Hamill (skating); Hockey: Tom Barrasso, Phil Esposito, Cam Neely, Terry Sawchuk, Roman Turek; Boxing: James “Gentleman Jim” Corbett, Marvin Hagler, Oscar de la Hoya, Reggie Johnson, Rafael “Bazooka” Limon, Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker; Auto Racing: Johnny Herbert, Ayrton Senna and Karl Wendlinger (Formula 1), Terry Labonte (NASCAR); American Football: Mark Brunell, Frankie Albert, Norman “Boomer” Esiason, Jim Del Gaizon, Gayle Sayers, Kenny Stabler, Steve Young, Jim Zorn; Basketball: Larry Bird, Charles “Lefty” Driesell, Nate Archibald, Walter Berry, Adrian Branch, Digger Phelps, Calbert Cheaney, Bill Russell, Mark Eaton, Nick Van Exel, Gail Goodrich, Bill Walton, Lenny Wilkins (to name a few); Tennis: Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova; Guy Forget, Andres Gomez, Goran Ivanesivic, Rod Laver, Henri LeConte, John McEnroe, Thomas Muster, Monica Seles, Roscoe Tanner, Guillermo Vilas, Mark Woodforde; Baseball: Babe Ruth, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Sandy Koufax, Stan Musial, Tommy John, Ron Guidry, Casey Stengel, Rickey Henderson, Don Mattingly, Ted Williams, Wally Joyner, Rafael Palmeiro, Leon “Goose” Goslin, David Justice, Barry Bonds, Fernando Valenzuela, Whitey Ford, Tommy Lasorda, Ty Cobb, Lenny Dykstra, Deion Sanders, Steve Carlton, Tom Glavine, Brett Butler, Darryl Strawberry, Lou Brock, Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn, Reggise Jackson, Dave Martinez, Ken Griffey, Jr., Warren Spahn.
And what about the famous lefties who were forced to switch hands? They include these notable names: Al Capone, Winston Churchill, World War II generals George Patton and Erwin Rommel, U.S. president Ronald Reagan, and Marilyn Monroe.