I’m somewhat bemused when someone notices that I’m left-handed. It takes a few beats for me to remember left-handedness isn't common.
My hand preference isn’t something I dwell on. However, when a friend suggested I write a column about left-handedness, I immediately agreed. After all, we lefties have suffered more than our share of religious, moral and societal persecution.
Why? We’re a small, unassuming group --- roughly 7 percent of the world’s population. We don’t cause much trouble. In fact, with many world leaders, artists and other important folks among our ranks, we vastly outperform the righties, thank you very much.
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But for some reason, we annoy, bother and enrage to the point of distraction. For many years, favoring the left hand for completing tasks like writing or eating was believed to be disgusting, evil and in league with Satan. (For a fun list of superstitions and myths associated with lefties, go to AnythingLeftHanded.co.uk.) We’re said to be stubborn, too, probably because we resist changing to the right --- read: correct --- hand.
“From the Bible to the Koran, from primitive tribes to advanced civilizations, from the dawn of recorded history to 21st century American parents, fear and suspicion of the ‘sinister side’ is so deeply ingrained few even notice its existence,” writes author Melissa Roth.
In her book, in “The Left Stuff: How the Left-Handed Have Survived and Thrived in a Right-Handed World” Roth notes that stigma against lefties runs deep.
“Stories are plentiful of ‘caggie handers’ trying to eat or to write, only to have their left hand whipped, scalded, sat upon, shouted at and even balled into a stump with duct tape. A skilled left hand was even used as a evidence of witchcraft, and sinistrals were sent to the village bonfire.”
In recent history, left-handedness was offered as a possible barrier to the U.S. presidency. After George H.W. Bush won the presidency, a December 1988 Washington Post headline asked, “Do we want a left-handed president?”
The article expounded upon the theories of psychologist Stanley Coren, who for years has claimed lefties expire sooner --- possibly because we’re so clumsy.
The article also linked lefties to increased illness, mental disorders and learning disabilities. Coren has since published a book that popularized the idea that left-handedness signals an underlying syndrome characterized by brain damage and a shortened lifespan.
Did we want the elder Bush stumbling around, knocking into things and doing potential harm to himself and others? We must not mind left-handed U.S. presidents: Five of the last seven have been lefties, including Barack Obama.
Although we may now scoff at the notion that there’s something not quite right about lefties, the stereotype that there is a link between left-handedness and awkwardness hasn’t died. Long-held cultural beliefs in the United States, China, France, the Netherlands and many other nations and cultures persist. (I have long maintained that we’d be fine if we didn’t have to function in a world set up for right-handed people.)
The reality is that those of us who write with our left hand --- do so because of biology. A 2007 Oxford University study published in Molecular Psychiatry determined that a specific gene is linked to left-handedness. (The same study indicates that Westerners have seen a surge in the gene over the past few generations, and now between 11 and 15 percent of Americans are reportedly left-handed.)
Golden writes the Courier’s weekly faith and values column. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.