Saturday, 13 August 2011

Rights for Lefties!


When my right-handed  parents discovered that my brother, their firstborn, was a left-handed child, they tried to find out as much as they could about "left-handedness". I guess since a few generations back, left-handers were simply expected to use their right hand to do handed tasks (such as writing), their enthusiasm was part of the counter-movement.

When I was born, whether purely from genetics, or from some kind of behavioural effect ("copying the big brother") I too turned out to be left-handed. Needless to say, I grew up being taught to be proud of my left-handedness. My mother was always there to promote my rights as a left-handed child - and I learnt not only to write, but also to cut (using left-handed scissors) and knit left-handed.

When I was in Grade 11, our class took part in a Toastmasters course. Each of us had to make two speeches in front of the class on "something we felt strongly about." After a fair amount of struggle and difficulty, I eventually came up with the topic "Left-handers living in a Right-handed World" for my first speech.

I spent quite a bit of time today hunting down a copy of my speech. For some reason, it no longer appears to be saved on the computer, despite the fact that my second speech and numerous other school projects are still there. I knew where a hard copy was stored until my recent "tidy up" in preparation for Oxford. I had a vague recollection of having thrown out all my Toastmasters stuff. Eventually, I did find it - on the pile of stuff to be thrown out.

My initial intention for this blog post had been to simply repost my speech here. But I discovered (something which I suspected might be the case) that I was rather more ignorant 7 years ago than I am now, and posting the speech as it is would be rather embarrassing.

So I've tasked myself with writing something new.

Left-handers living in a right-handed world

Back when I wrote the speech, my main thrust was to complain. Right-handers don't know what it's like to be left-handed. They are selfish about it, and do very little to make our lives any easier. They tolerate us but don't understand us.

As I said, I've grown a little wiser in the last 7 years, and have learnt that much in life is not fair. Being a left-hander in a right-handed world is hardly the worst handicap one can suffer. Especially today, when we don't have our left hand's tied behind our backs as we are forced to learn to write with our right hands.

And at least, unlike in Latin, the word "left" does not mean "evil" or "suspect" (although perhaps is does to some people in a different sense. Hmmm, perhaps we are destined always to be sinister beings).

There are, however, certain irritations we must face as lefties. These are things I suspect most right-handed people, and even some lefties, never think of. Most "things" we use in every day life, if they are designed for use by a particular hand, are designed for right-handers: scissors, knives, cake forks, kettles (the position of the handle relative to the water-level viewer), door handles, can openers, taps, hockey sticks, musical instruments, books, files and garden tools...

Those are just a few of the things we use that are often, if not always, designed to be more convenient for right-handed use. Some of these are now available in left-handed or "hand neutral" forms. Scissors are the most famous and easily available. At least for children. It is quite a bit more difficult to find adult-sized left-handed scissors. And when you get to specialised scissors (hairdressers', tailors', nail and embroidery scissors) they must be ordered from a specialist supplier. By the way, for those who are wondering what the "difference" between left and right-handed scissors is, there is a difference and it is significant. If you look at a pair of right-handed scissors, whichever way you turn them, the blade of the right handle is always on top. In left-handed scissors it is the blade of the left handle on top. This is important for the way the blades work together. Use your scissors in the wrong hand, and you'll see the blades want to "separate".

I mentioned the kettle in my list because it's a little uncomfortable and annoys me picking up a full kettle with my non-dominant hand. (I have, to be fair, seen and used "swivel" kettles, which give lefties the option of swinging them around before picking them up).

One of my chief annoyances in school was arch-lever files. Do you know how hard it is to write on a page in an arch-lever file with your left hand? Try it some time. Right-handers often say to me: "just turn it upside down". I could, but then the lever is at the top instead of the bottom. A similar problem happens with spiral-bound books. The spiral is right where my hand wants to be while I'm writing. It's most uncomfortable.

On the issue of writing, although left-handers are allowed to right with their left hands, we are still expected write in the right-handed way: left to right if you use Latin script. There are two annoying things about this: it covers (and if the ink is wet, smudges) what you have just written. I often rewrite or misspell words, because I can't see the first half of what I just wrote. The second thing is that it just feels unnatural.

I know someone's going to come up with the argument that Hebrew and other alphabets right from right to left, disadvantaging right-handers. The reason for this is that most of these languages were originally written using the "hammer and chisel" method, with the chisel in the scribe's left hand and hammer in the right. But I can tell you from experience in writing Hebrew, that even though the writing was from left to right, my teacher still insisted that I follow the "rules" for drawing each individual letter which was, as it felt to me, a right-hand biased way of writing them.

The final thing I'd like to discuss is musical instruments. Guitars are the least problematic. Accoustic guitars need simply be turned and restrung upside down. Chords must be learnt "backwards", but it's not that difficult. When you start getting to the electric guitars, restringing is a little less convenient, since they are often shaped in such a way, that you can "tell" the thing is upside down. And the worst part is, a left-hander, who has learnt to play the guitar left-handed, cannot simply pick up a right-hander's guitar unless you want to also take the time and trouble of learning to play left handed. Other instruments such as the piano are even worse. It may be possible, with electronic pianos and keyboards to programme the piano backwards for lefties. But it would require specialised training and sheet music. So we must make do with playing music in which the right hand generaly plays the dominant part.

Being left-handed has always been a special part of who I am. I am proud to be left-handed. Right-handers may not understand this. Some lefties may not understand. When I discover something new that is right hand biased, it is often with a sense of amusement more than frustration. Did you know some mugs are right hand biased? they have picture on only one side. Hold it in your left hand and you must stare at the blank "back" of the mug. ;-)

I think I've said enough to make my point. That is, if I have a point. Being left-handed is special and fun. It has it's challenges. Some which can be overcome easily, others endured. I guess most of life is like that. It's kind of nice to get serious about something trivial once in a while. 

Interesting Left-hander's links:
Lefty Lament (written and performed by Ian Radburn)

All pictures (except the second which is my own left hand) were borrowed from the Left-handers' Day website.


BioMum said...

A friend of mine has a shirt that says, "If the brain controls the opposite side of the body, does that mean that left handed people are always in their right mind?"

An interesting survey we do when studying genetics is to see if people who are right (or left) handed are also dominant with their right foot, eye, ear, etc. There is a correlation but it does not follow straight Mendelian genetics.

I enjoyed the post.

Ajnos said...

I can corroborate that result: my right leg seems more dominant than my left. Thanks so much for reading and commenting on my post, B-Mum. ^.^

That quote about being in one's right mind is a favourite amongst left-handers, but the left-hand/right-brain dominance isn't that clear-cut either. I'm not entirely sure which side of my brain is dominant - I seem to fit somewhere in between (After all I did choose to study a "sciency"arts subject).

I know handedness is important when selecting participants in psycho- and neurolinguistic studies. Left-handers are more likely to have their language faculty in the right hemisphere (as opposed to the usual left) or spread across both, so they are usually not allowed to participate in these studies ;-)

Linda21stblessing said...

in my family of four, >three< of us are lefties! Thanks for the entertaining entry. It totally resonated with me, although I personally have learned to compensate by doing many tasks (sports, sewing, cooking, etc) right handed so in some ways I have been forced into being ambidextrous.

By the way traditionally Chinese and Japanese are/were written right to left... But alas I am not fluent enough in either to be able to take advantage of that advantage.
Blessings, Linda/BĂ©nisse