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OP-ED: Lefties do it right

  • Published at 09:35 pm August 6th, 2020
International Left Handers' Day

It’s not easy living in a right-handed world

Being left-handed is like being in a secret club. We have our own bizarre initialization rituals, such as learning how to write “the wrong way.” We pay our dues every day, in terms of the extra effort that we must make to live in a right-handed world. When we encounter another lefty, we immediately have something in common. 

The club is shrouded in secrecy, because we rarely mention the topic to our right-handed friends. But as we know that the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, we can say that only left-handed people are in their right minds.

August 13 is International Left-handers Day, and was first observed in 1976. As its name suggests, it is meant to promote awareness of the inconveniences facing left-handers in a predominantly right-handed world. It is a day to celebrate their uniqueness and difference, which is about 10-12% of the world’s population. 

The word left in English comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lyft, which means weak or broken. Rampant cultural differences have imbued us with the notion that left equals bad. The English word “sinister,” for example, is derived from the Latin for “left-hand side.” In French, gauche means left and, of course, awkward, clumsy, unlucky, insincere, malicious, and socially unrefined. 

Being out in left field is not good, and neither is having “two left feet.” Left-handedness has long been associated with Satanic influences and witchcraft and a “left-handed compliment” is actually an insult. In the Bible, the blessed are always sitting at the right hand of God, never the left. The right hand is mentioned positively 100 times in the Bible, while the left hand is mentioned only 25 times, all negatively. 

Then there are the practical biases, a regular source of inconvenience, frustration, and sometimes peril, to left-handers.

Try opening a tin can with a manual tin opener using your left hand -- your arms will be crossed, and you’re likely to cut yourself on the lid. Hold a measuring cup with your left hand -- the fractional amounts will be facing unhelpfully away from you. Think: Circular saws, electric drills, chainsaws, surgical instruments, even firearms and holsters. All designed primarily for righties. And computer keyboards are made for righties -- even though Bill Gates himself is left-handed.

Until very recently in Taiwan, left-handed people were strongly encouraged to switch to being right-handed (or at least, switch to writing and eating with the right hand). It is more difficult to write legible Chinese characters with the left hand than it is to write Latin letters. Remember that “easy” and “difficult” depend on the person using those terms, so your writing may be neater. 

Because it is supposedly easier to write when moving your hand towards its side of the body, it is easier to write the Roman alphabet with your right hand than with your left. Conversely, Arabic and Hebrew, which go from right to left, would be easier to write with the left hand. Again, “easier” and “harder” are subjective.

It is possible that sun worship relates to the association of the left with evil. People in the northern hemisphere, looking south, would see the sun rise on their left, move rightwards across the sky, and set on their right. In the southern hemisphere the opposite happens. Among cultures from the southern hemisphere, right-handedness is still dominant. No study on left-side connotations from those cultures has been done. 

It is hoped that all left-handers celebrate their uniqueness on August 13 and that right-handers will show them more understanding and respect.

Julian Francis has worked, written and typed left-handedly for many years in Bangladesh and, since the Liberation War, has been encouraging the few left-handers in Bangladesh to assert their uniqueness in their very right-handed world. Email: [email protected]