I am left-handed, which not only makes me far superior to all you ‘righties’ out there (unless you need a cheque signed, that’s a bit of a struggle!) but also leaves me open to some odd cultural misconceptions. Are we the devil’s handmaidens, or are we highly gifted? I think you already know the route this blog will take 😉
Known as a ‘Citog’ in my own native tongue, I’m sometimes called a ‘Leftie’, or when I was stateside, a ‘Southpaw’. All of these names basically have the same connotation; You’re different. Which, to a person like me, is the highest of compliments! Although it hasn’t always been that way. The root of our ‘otherness’ may lie in any one or all of the following sources. Organised religion; they seemed to consider the left as being evil and connected with the devil. Medieval society; they invented the whole shaking hands with your right hand in order to show that you were not carrying arms. Or a more recent theory basing the cause on the left hand’s use for hygiene purposes in the non-industrialised world. However, our very language demonstrates that ‘left’ has been associated with at best strangeness and at worst badness for centuries. The Latin word for left is Sinistre and we don’t need a dictionary to work out that that’s not good. In French, it is Gauche, meaning awkward or tactless (quelle horreur!) And apparently in old English, lyft meant weak.
As a result of all this anti-left brainwashing, many left-handed children were forced to write with their right hands at school – for no better reason than an outdated superstition. Thankfully, I began school just as this practice was dying out, yet I still remember that fateful day when the teacher came to my desk and noticed that I was carefully shaping the letter ‘A’ on my copybook with my left hand. She hesitated; I knew what was coming and gave her what I hoped were these eyes.
I’d been forewarned you see, by my predecessors. They were going to try to change me. ‘You’re a citog,’ she remarked. I said nothing. I could see that she was mulling it over… what to do. And then, with a simple gesture that would impact the rest of my writing years, she simply batted the idea away and said, ‘You’re alright.’ The irony! I’m all left lady, but what’s a dominant hand between friends.
So everytime I sign my name, fill in a form or initial a receipt, people feel the need to comment on the fact that I write with my left. It’s like we are some kind of an enigma in an otherwise predictable world. What’s more, I hold my pen between my index finger and my middle finger, which does tend to draw some queer looks. ‘How can you write like that?’ they ask. ‘Probably with better control of the pen,’ I mumble.
Our numbers are estimated at about 10% of the population and you can even buy left-handed products now like scissors (totes awky to use) and spiral notebooks. Although I’m not sure they’ve found a solution to the smudge-fest that is your hand trailing over the words you’ve just written.
Oh if only I’d learnt Arabic – they write right to left, right? Anyway, the upside to all of this is that left-handed people learn to adapt very quickly. Like Einstein (ahem) I have become mixed-handed, which as opposed to ambidextrous, means I can use my right hand for some things and my left hand for others. While nobody really understands the evolutionary mystery of why some people are left-handed and the rest of you sad sacks aren’t (sorry!), things have really turned around for us lefties in the last few decades. Neuroscience has shown that the brain functions in a criss-cross manner; that is to say that the right hemisphere controls the left hand side of the body, and the left hemisphere controls the right hand side of the body. The left hemisphere, once considered dominant as it is the side that controls speech and language, is the side that analyses and rationalises using logic. The right hemisphere however controls spatial awareness, perception, imagination and creativity. Moreover, studies have shown that left-handed people tend to think less laterally, i.e. they process both language and spatial awareness in both hemispheres producing ‘superior mental abilities’. I had often heard it said that left-handed people tended to be more creative and I never fully understood this until I began reading ‘Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain’ by Betty Edwards (which I would highly recommend for lefties and righties alike!)
Using the right hemisphere, we ‘see’ things in this mode that may be imaginary – existing only in the mind’s eye. We understand metaphors, we dream, we create new combinations of ideas.
Edwards points out how important it is for our school system to cultivate the right hand side of the brain, which has been left largely neglected by our curriculum. Thankfully, we now live in an age where difference can be celebrated rather than demonized and at the risk of developing a left-handed superiority complex, here is a list of some of the august company in which we, as lefties, find ourselves!
Leonardo Da Vinci – Darwin – Marie Curie – Charlie Chaplin – Lewis Carroll – David Bowie