There’s a prevailing rule of thumb when it comes to men who wear earrings: Left is right and right is wrong.
But if you’re among the 10 to 13 percent of Americans who are left-handed, you’d be inclined to believe the world operates on the opposite notion that right is right and left is wrong.
That’s why International Left-Handers Day was launched in 1976 as an annual observance when left-handers everywhere can celebrate their sinistrality (left-handedness) and increase public awareness of the advantages — and, just as importantly, the disadvantages — of being left-handed.
So, right-handed folks everywhere, beware. Today is the day the left hand gets the upper hand. Today’s edition of The Ardmoreite is an indoctrination to what some might term the Dark Side, despite the fact that left-handed Luke Skywalker prevailed. For at least one day, left-handers do it right.
What’s the big deal, you might ask as a member of the right-handed majority? To lefties, the world is a year-round adaptation to home and office layouts designed for right-handers’ comfort. Southpaws put up with doors, cookers, sinks, computer mice, keyboards and desks that are efficient for right-handers, and hundreds of times each day contort themselves using back-to-front tools and gadgets which make them look clumsy and awkward. What’s so difficult about using scissors, a potato peeler or a water fountain? Try doing it with your right arm behind your back.
And let’s not talk about what happens at dinner parties if the chairs are close together.
Lefties are quick to point out that being left-handed is a minority, as are natural blondes, guys over six feet tall and people whose wisdom teeth come in without complications.
These “non-traditionalists” are sometimes singled out for stereotyping or teasing. So are redheads, who are suspected of having bad tempers. So are very tall men, who are assumed to be basketball players. So is anyone whose name can be made to rhyme with a school-yard insult.
But I digress.
To be sure, there are plenty of tools specifically designed for right-handed use, but there are also plenty of everyday objects which work equally well when used with either hand: Pencils, hammers, screwdrivers, drinking glasses, matches, staplers, light switches, footballs, ad infinitum.
Living in a right-handed world, southpaws adapt. Sometimes begrudgingly, but they overcome, which they like to believe is beyond righties. Of course, there are instances where no concessions have to be made. In a country where people drive on the right side of the road, both left- and right-handed drivers sit on the left side of the car and learn to shift gears with the right hand. On the other hand, in Great Britain where people drive on the left side of the road, both left- and right-handed drivers sit on the right side of the car and learn to shift gears with the left hand.
But the English language provides generous contributions to left-handed prejudices. There are a lot of sayings where right is good and left is bad, such as “being in your right mind,” “the divine right of kinds” and “it will be all right in the end,” compared to being “left out,” having “two left feet” and being the recipient of a “left-handed compliment” (which is one that is not sincere).
The fact is, however, that while the world is populated with right-handers, it is often run by lefties. One of every six U.S. presidents has been left-handed — four of the last five Commanders in Chief were left-handed — and in both the 1992 and 2008 elections, the right-handed public couldn’t even choose a right-handed candidate — Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot in 1992, and Barack Obama and John McCain in 2008 are all southpaws. Then there’s the real seat of power, where four of the five original designers of the Macintosh computer — including Bill Gates himself — were lefties.
Often suppressed by right-handers, it is commonly held that there are more left-handed people with IQs over 140 — which is the genius threshold — than right-handed people. This is perhaps why lefties comprise a sizable portion of creative professions such as music, art, architecture and writing (this author notwithstanding), and why one in four Apollo astronauts were left-handed, which is 250 percent more than the normal level.
While it’s often apparent which handed a person is (if you don’t know which you are, you may be ambidextrous), studies have found some actions are more “handed” than others. For example, when drawing or writing, children almost always use the same hand to hold the pencil every time. But when they go to touch their nose, many (30-40 percent, depending on age) use either hand, and in placing beads in a bottle, up to 60 percent swap hands without thinking about it. Among adults, some of the least handed activities are carrying a suitcase, hold a dog’s leash and lifting the lid off a box; among the activities most likely to be always done with the same hand are hammering, throwing and hitting a ball, and, of course, writing.
For those who have never paid much attention to the subject of handedness, consider that less than 50 percent of adults always use the same hand while stirring with a spoon, but more than 80 percent stick to their preferred hand while eating from a spoon. In general, activities that are more hand-specific are ones that either require a lot of practice and fine detail (such as writing) or the coordination of large muscle groups for a sudden, smooth action (like throwing a ball).
Findings are that men are slightly more likely than women to be left-handed, most lefties draw figures facing to the right, and there’s a high tendency in twins for one to be left-handed. If both parents are right-handed, there’s only a 2 percent chance their children will be left-handed, but if both parents are left-handed, it’s 50-50 their children will be left-handed.
But in a right-handed world, there are examples of the left hand having the upper hand. Wedding bands are reserved for the left hand because of the belief that the “love vein” runs from the third finger of the left hand to the heart, and placing the wedding ring on this finger provides a closer connection with one’s heart. (Don’t tell a man of ancient Japan, who could divorce his wife if he discovered she was left-handed.)
For those who are always prepared, the Boy Scout handshake is accomplished with the left hand rather than the right. This special greeting apparently was derived from the example of two neighboring West African tribes who decided to end generations of war between them. Leaving behind his spear and shield, one defenseless chief approached the other chief and offered his left hand in friendship and trust.
And while no other species of animal reportedly prefers one side of the body to nearly the extent humans do, researches believe the majority of gorillas are left-handed and that all polar bears are left-handed. With the scarcity of both gorillas and polar bears in south central Oklahoma, you’ll probably just have to take these claims on faith.
There are left-handers clubs here and there, but no official left-handed capital, although an argument could be made for Left Hand, W.Va., or even Sweetwater, Texas, all of which can be typed on the keyboard solely with the left hand.
But possibly the most impressive revelations in ongoing hand-to-hand combat among southpaws and righties are that left-handers are generally more intelligent, better looking, more imaginative and more multi-talented than right-handers. (At least that’s the findings from a recent discussion among members of the Left-Handers Club.)