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Left-Handed People And Their Challenges

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 4 18

right hand tools present a challenge

All those who believe they are right brained, raise your hand. Which hand did you raise? If it was the left, you are a minority in our world. You have probably spent a good portion of your life trying to master tasks that come very easily to others. You also may have been discouraged from doing things with your left hand in your formative years. For what seemed like an eternity, I was forced to practice penmanship with my right hand. After my teacher realized that "Dodyrt z,tu Shmid O csm'y fp yjod!" meant "Sister Mary Agnus, I can't do this!" I was finally allowed to use my left hand.

Forceful persuasion by people around me never changed my natural instinct to write with my left hand, draw, cut with scissors, or eat paste. Of course I'm talking about my childhood. Over the years I've wondered why I approach some tasks with my right hand and others with my left.

While the dictionary defines an "ambidextrous" person as having the ability to use both hands equally well, the definition is really not quite specific enough. I can use both hands equally well, but not for the same purposes. And that's the difference. If Ambidextrous Michelangelo had held a brush in each hand while painting the Sistine Chapel it might have been completed in two years instead of four. When I first saw the ceiling I marveled at the work, especially the artist's flawless perspective. Then I smiled when I saw the image of a left-handed Adam. Even serious artists of that era had their fun moments.

Ask me to draw a baseball and I'll do it with my left hand. Ask me to catch a baseball, I'll do it with my right. There are many things I've learned to do right-handed with ease. Most south paws never consciously approach a task wondering which hand to use. Like a dependable Employment Agency, the brain automatically sends out the hand that is best qualified for the job. In my case the hand that extends for a task requiring precision is different than the one that requires strength. I've never opened the stubborn lid of a jar with my left hand and never drawn a picture with my right.

Hundreds of years ago it was believed that left-handed people were evil. What's really evil is forcing a lefty to use a normal pair of scissors, write in left bound notebooks, use a kitchen knife, a can opener, or a firearm. The first time I used a power saw I was puzzled by my inability to correctly line things up, that's because the tool was designed for use by the majority of the population, not for me.

You've no doubt heard that left-handed people are the only ones in their right minds. Because the right hemisphere of the brain controls creativity you'll find an inordinate number of lefties pursuing music and the arts. There's more than a little irony involved when you consider this may be true, because so many instruments like guitars for example, are designed for right-handed people. Yes, you can buy left-handed guitars but the selection is not as great and they come at a premium. The same holds true for other left-handed  creative tools and equipment

Have you seen a left-handed sewing machine? How about a left hand computer trackball?


There has been plenty of discussion as to whether left hand dominance is genetic or learned. At wiki.answers.com someone responded to the question of why people are left-handed with: "because the nerve endings in the right hand has less muscle and it also means that at birth the left hand was the hand to come out at first." Many serious theories have been suggested including one saying a left-handed person is the result of twin fetuses where one failed to develop. While the theory is serious, it's not valid. Human neurobiologists have written that "hand orientation is determined in the fetus" and can be identified by which hand is held close to the mouth. That's about as close as we've gotten to know anything concrete about left-handedness.

Inconvenience Or Handicap?

It's reported that in school, right armed desks cause problems for lefties, everything from being accused of cheating, a result of the posture necessary to use the desk, to poor test scores. This style of classroom furniture does not provide the student with support for left hand writing. But there's encouraging news. Some schools are incorporating a few left arm desks in classrooms. And now there are special scholarships aimed at lefty students. The Mary Beckley Scholarship foundation in PA offers a grant to students who experience a handicap as a result of being left-handed. Forty students have been awarded scholarships since 1979.

Teaching The Leftie

Left-handed people present unique challenges for instructors in certain subjects. Take needlework like knitting or crocheting for example. Not many teachers can turn the whole process around and work backwards. Even teaching a little leaguer to bat from the left can be awkward. In medical schools lefty surgeons have a longer learning curve because they have to perform procedures from the right side of the operating table.

The Negative

Through the ages and throughout the world there have been negative connotations and problems for left-handed people. Here are a few:

  • The term "left-handed (also called backhanded) compliments" are sometimes deliberate insults disguised as flattery.
  • In Malaysian culture the left hand is considered unclean so eating with it in public could create a stir.
  • The French word for "left" is "gauche", which in English means crude or tactless.
  • Parents in older times would hide the fact that they had a left-handed child as though they were abnormal.
  • There's a higher incidence of work related injuries because of equipment design.
  • Special tools of all sorts are needed for tasks in every walk of life in order to get the job done competently.
  • When writing with a pencil the hand passes over the previous words and can smudge carbon onto the hand and the rest of the page.
  • Lefties must reach across the body to perform tasks as simple as opening a door.
  • Lefties can't sit to the right of a right-handed person in a restaurant booth without banging elbows.

The Positive

In this right hand world there have been many south paws in many walks of life to celebrate. Here are a few:

Ben Franklin

Babe Ruth

Barrack Obama

25% of Apollo Astronauts

Henry Ford

Helen Keller

Alexander The Great

Dr. Albert Schweitzer

Edward R. Morrow

Clarence Darrow

General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

David Letterman

Caroline and John F. Kennedy Jr.

Lewis Carroll

Judy Garland

Charlie Chaplin

Shoeless Joe Jackson

Mark Spitz

Oscar de la Hoya

Gayle Sayers

Larry Bird

Jimmy Connors

Bart Simpson

August 13 is international Left-Handers Day!



Jan 24, 2011 7:53pm
Fascinating article ... and you ended with a list of creative people who were left handed. That's interesting. On the InfoBarrel forum a few months ago someone did an informal survey. About 25% of the respondents were left handed, although far fewer are left-handed in the general public. Although I'm right-handed, it does appear that InfoBarrel writers may be more creative than the general public, since there are so many lefties here! :-)
Jan 25, 2011 11:38am
Great article, loads of good info, I too am ambidertrous, and as you point out the dictionary definition is off. I use each hand for different things as well. ^^
Jan 25, 2011 5:08pm
You and Michelangelo! Appreciate the comment!
Jan 25, 2011 5:13pm
Fascinating! My wife is left handed and she's a jewel.
Jan 25, 2011 5:20pm
You're a very lucky man.
Jan 31, 2011 4:34pm
As a lefty, I can appreciate this article! What's more, I am right-footed and right-eyed, so that creates some real havoc at times as I try to figure out how to get everything coordinated!
Feb 17, 2011 2:08pm
This is so funny! I never even thought about determining if I am left or right footed! I'm going to check into this.
Feb 3, 2011 11:25am
My youngest daughter is left-handed; she will enjoy reading this! Thank you diva!!
Feb 17, 2011 2:07pm
Appreciate your input Introspective!
Feb 10, 2011 2:45am
Interesting as usual! My husband is in this group and our kitchen doesn't work for him, it's all backwards:)
Feb 17, 2011 2:07pm
I can relate to your husband's problem. Thanks for the comment.
Feb 10, 2011 8:16am
Very well written article. I have two daughters that are left handed and they are my real go-getters in life and are very accomplished. Thanks for a great perspective.
Feb 17, 2011 2:06pm
Thank you for your comment!
Feb 17, 2011 12:08am
My son is left handed, so we bought him the top flip spiral notebooks for class. All was well until 11th grade, when his history teacher refused to let him use anything but the notebook with the spiral on the left. You'd think a little visit to the principal would have helped,but he sided with the teacher. When we walked out of the office,my son muttered," So these are the people you want me to respect?'. People can be such idiots. It was 15 years ago, and it still makes me mad!
Feb 17, 2011 2:06pm
Incredible that educators can be so lacking and inflexible!
Jul 11, 2011 12:08pm
Another lefty here. Nice article. Maybe that's why so few people in the city use their blinkers. They must be right handed. Of course, I can still manage to start the ignition, so maybe not.
Jul 11, 2011 12:16pm
Thanks lefty! Love the blinker comment!
Jul 11, 2011 12:47pm
I am an "ambidextrous" lefty too and can relate to the left-sided spiral notebook frustrations, ballpen smudges on my hand and learning crochet and other crafts in reverse. Someone gave me a left-handed can opener to my joy a long time ago. My youngest is a creative leftie and she will be thrilled to know she is in her "right mind."
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