Chris McManus, Professor of Psychology and Medical Education at the University College London, claimed in his book Right Hand Left Hand that left-handers as a group have produced an above-average quota of high achievers. While the right-handed community might jump debating, one thing’s for sure. It is not bad, after all, to be a left-hander.
Every time I pick up my pen to write, several eyebrows are raised. It’s almost like I’m doing something different from the rest. Well, I don’t blame those who cast cynical and surprised looks at me. After all, left-handers like me only comprise about 10 per cent of the world’s population! And, a majority of us are found in western countries, as in the East we are generally considered as a sign of ‘bad luck’. The truth, however, is that we are just wired a little differently.
How we are different
We are like everyone else, but we have our own skill sets. While most right-handers are controlled by the left side of the brain, we are controlled by the right (making us lefties the ones in our right minds!). Dr Halprashanth D S, Consultant Neurologist, Department of Neurology, Global Health City, says, “The right hemisphere of the brain controls the left side of our body and vice versa. The left part of our brain is called the dominant hemisphere because our language functions are controlled by this part. But, even with 70 per cent of left-handers, the left hemisphere of the brain is more dominant.”
As far as skills are concerned, we left-handers are naturally inclined towards music and creativity. This is mainly because the right hemisphere of the brain deals with spatial awareness, imagination, creativity, music and dance, according to Dr. Halprashanth. The left hemisphere on the other hand deals with writing, logical thinking, and mathematics, among others.
Adapting to things also comes easily to us. It is far easier for a left-hander to switch hands and attempt writing with the right hand than it is for our fellow righties. Our health is also better, as according to studies, we are less likely to be impacted by conditions like arthritis and ulcers. That’s a huge bonus, isn’t it? However, we do tend to get scared easily, displaying subtle signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Though this aspect needs more research, a short study conducted in Britain found that lefties were more prone to it.
Being left-handed is not a choice
Not all of us choose to be left-handed, at least not when we are toddlers. Daniel M Abrams, Assistant Professor, Department of Engineering Sciences and Applied Mathematics, Northwestern University, talks in his TED-Ed video about how left-handedness is not a choice and can be destined even before a child is born. In fact, the baby’s position in the womb can determine her handedness. Being left-handed is also not decided completely by genes.
Dr. Halprashanth adds that even if both parents are left-handed, the chances of the child being left-handed are only 25 per cent. That’s not much, considering the vast amount of traits that we inherit, thanks to genetics.
Ida Machado, whose daughter is also left-handed, says, “I used to keep asking my daughter to use her right hand to write and pick up things, but she’d automatically use her left hand for everything. After a while, we just let her be.” For Christine, Ida’s daughter, like me, being left-handed was an inborn trait, and not a conscious choice. And I’m sure she too would be proud to be left-handed.
Why is it rare to find left-handed people?
There are no major theories or studies that explain why it is rare to find left-handers. However, one study must be mentioned here. Professor Abrams and his then graduate student, Mark J Panaggio used real-world data from competitive sports to arrive at a theory that social behaviour is related to population-level handedness. This theory is based on the balance between competition and co-operation in human evolution.
In his TED-Ed video, Professor Abrams explains how left-handers have a distinct advantage in a competitive environment because of the ‘surprise’ factor. But, according to the theory of evolution, groups that have a distinct advantage, continue to grow until that advantage disappears. Thus, in a purely competitive world, there would be 50 per cent left-handers. However, human evolution is also shaped by co-operation.
Co-operative pressure pushes handedness distribution in the opposite direction. Because everything in the co-operative world is designed for the right-handed majority, a lot of lefties have issues coping with the not-so-conducive physical environment and disappear over a period of time. Thus, the rarity of lefties helps maintain the equilibrium in a purely competitive and co-operative world.
Though complex, Abrams’ theory does make sense at one level, as every other reason for the rarity of encountering left-handed people is rooted in myths and superstitions. Coming from India, I know of a lot of families who force children to write with their right hand as left is considered weak, unclean, clumsy, sinister, and so on. There is no science to prove any of this, but we live in a society that believes in superstitions as much as science. If you trace the etymology of the word ‘left,’ you will realise that it comes from the West Germanic word, ‘lyft’, meaning weak. Even in English, the word is used with a lot of negative connotations like, ‘have two left feet’, which means being awkward in physical movements while dancing and playing a sport. With all these unfavourable references, it isn’t surprising that lefties like me remain a rarity. Like everything else, being a left-hander also comes with its own merits and demerits, but that doesn’t mean we should be shunned by people. People should realise that we are just a little different.
What should parents do?
Don’t force your child to switch hands. If anything, encourage your child to become ambidextrous as it has a whole range of benefits. Dr. Halprashanth says, “It is truly a gift to be ambidextrous. Parents should encourage their child to be one. It helps one become far more intelligent and imaginative.”
It is not a question of whether you believe in superstitions or not; the point is that you shouldn’t be blinded by them. Except for the fact that we write using our left hand and prefer it over our right hand for performing most tasks, we are just like everyone else. Stop judging us left-handers on our handedness, and accept us as we are – left and proud!
If you still aren’t convinced about the many benefits of being left-handed, here is a list of some famous people who are left-handed.
- Sachin Tendulkar - Indian Cricketing legend
- Narendra Modi - Prime Minister of India
- Barack Obama - US President
- Leonardo da Vinci - painter, sculptor, mathematician, inventor, writer, anatomist and geologist
- Amitabh Bachchan - Indian Actor
- Oprah Winfrey - American media proprietor and talk show host
- Ratan Tata - Indian business tycoon.
- Bill Gates - American business magnate who co-founded Microsoft
- Brian Lara - former West Indian cricket player
Myths about left-handers
People have always been puzzled by anything that is different or deviant from the norm, thereby leading them to form myths in order to convince themselves. Being few in number and therefore, considered deviant if not defiant, left-handers too have been the subject of a lot of myths. Here are a few of them:
- Left-handers are devils, or related to the devil. This myth came to be mainly because historically, paintings and tales of the devil portrayed him to be left-handed.
- Left-handers die earlier than right-handers. Left-handers are considered weak, mainly because of the etymology of the word from ‘lyft’, the West-Germanic word which means ‘weak’.
- Left-handers are considered to be a bad omen, because according to witchcraft texts from medieval Europe, the left hand was used to harm or curse another person.
- Left-handers are often associated with black magic, which is attributed to Satanism and at times referred to as ‘the left hand path’.