Despite the title, this blog is NOT about communists or socialists. Rather, the theme is people who are left-handed. Most of you, probably did not realize that August 13 was International Left-Handers Day as designated by “Lefthanders International.” This “day” has been observed annually since 1976. That’s right, or rather, that’s correct. Lefties have their own “day” and their own organization.
According to CNN left-handedness, or sinistrality, is derived from the Latin word “sinistra” meaning “on the left.” Through the years, sinistrality has been associated with weakness, impurity and/or evil. It is related to the word, “sinister.”
According to Wikipedia, between 7 – 10% of people are left-handed. LiveScience.com puts the number at 11%. The number has varied slightly throughout history and in different cultures. Regardless, lefties are rare.
One question that has perplexed scientists is what causes a person to be left-handed. Approximately 150 years ago Gregor Mendel discovered the concept of hereditary traits – dominant and recessive genes. As you probably remember from your high school biology certain traits have dominant and recessive genes, which are passed on to one’s children. For example, brown eye color is dominant and blue is recessive.
Handedness is not so simple. Dr. Barry Starr, of Stanford University, writing in the website, “Stanford at the Tech” explains that there are other factors that affect handedness. For example, studies have shown:
1. Even if both parents are right-handed there is a 1 in 10 chance that their off-spring will be a lefty.
2. If only the father is left-handed the odds are the same, but if only the mother is a lefty the odds rise to 2 in 10. Why the difference? Who knows.
3. Even if both parents are lefties the odds are only 4 in 10 that their off-spring will be left-handed.
4. Most astonishingly, identical twins, which share the same egg and have identical DNA are not always the same handedness. Dr. Starr points out that both twins would be left-handed only 76% of the time, not 100% as one might expect.
This seems to contradict what we learned about dominant and recessive traits in high school biology, and there is not agreement as to why. However, Dr. Starr points out that there are other factors in play, such as environment. He believes that besides genes there must be some sort of “environmental trigger” to cause one to be left-handed. What these triggers may be is uncertain, but Dr. Starr suggests that two of them might be the order of birth and gender of the child.
A 1996 study by the Harvard Medical School determined that people working in certain professions, such as surgeons, mathematicians and librarians, tended to be righthanded, whereas people working as artists, musicians and university professors tended to be left-handed. Another study indicated that lefties tend to have increased rates of high blood pressure, irritable bowel and schizophrenia. I have to admit that I’m not sure of the veracity of those studies, but they are interesting food for thought.
In any case, I’m not sure why there are so few lefties. I recall that when I was growing up parents would frequently try to convert their left-handed children to right-handed. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it did not. But, it often caused friction between the parent and the child, who would be resistant to the idea.
We all know people that are left-handed, but do any righties stop to think of the inconveniences they endure in their daily lives? For example:
1. Opening cans. Can openers are made for righties. I am not aware of any “left-handed” can openers. (Actually, it sounds like a bad joke.)
2, Writing. This has been mitigated by the widespread use of computers, but older lefties will recall the difficulties of writing on school desks, particularly those that had the side panel arm rest on the right side. Lefties had to write sideways or upside down. Moreover, when writing with a fountain pen a leftie would invariably smudge the ink or get ink on his clothes, fingers and hand.
3. Scissors. The simple task of using a pair of scissors to cut paper would be problematic for a leftie. Like everything else, scissors are made for righties.
4. Shaking hands. Some lefties find it awkward to shake hands with their “off” hand.
5. Spiral notebooks. These are uncomfortable for lefties, as their hand is always resting on the metal spiral.
6. Bumping elbows. If you’ve ever sat next to a lefty in a restaurant booth or other enclosed space you are familiar with this problem.
7. Bowling and golf equipment. This does not appear to be as much of a problem now, but when I was growing up it was next to impossible to find lefty golf or bowling equipment. Consequently, I have met many lefties of my generation who were forced to learn to bowl or golf righty.
8. Peer ridicule. Not so much now, but when I was growing up many child lefties were subjected to teasing or ridicule by their peers because they did things differently. According to NBC News a few years ago a pre-K teacher actually sent a four-year-old boy lefthander home with a letter stating that “lefthandedness is often associated with evil and the devil” Imagine, as a parent, receiving a letter like that? Peer ridicule is bad enough, but from a teacher?
On the plus side, in my experience most lefties can do many things righty, sometimes almost to the point of being ambidextrous. Conversely, most righties do nothing lefty and have a weak, uncoordinated left hand.
A website called “Anything Lefthanded” has put together a set of products deigned just for lefties to help them navigate through life. Some of the items include:
1. Lefthanded scissors (with reversed blades).
2. Lefthanded can opener.
3. Lead pencils with printing on the lefthanded direction.
4. Lefthanded pencil sharpener.
5. Lefthanded notepad.
Lefties take heart. In the pc age, your life has generally been made easier. Furthermore, there have been innumerable successful people who were lefty. A total of eight US Presidents were lefties, which significantly exceeds the average in the population as a whole: James A. Garfield, Herbert Hoover, Harry S. Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
In addition, there have been thousands of successful and famous lefties in other fields. A small sampling would include entertainers, such as Don Adams, George Burns, James Caan, Matt Dillon and Sylvester Stallone; artists, such as Leonardo Da Vinci and LeRoy Neiman; and baseball players such as Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Sandy Koufax and Ted Williams. (In fact, left-handed baseball players have a couple of advantages. Pitchers are very much in demand, because they are needed to get out left-handed batters, and even an average one can enjoy a long career. Also, lefthanded batters are a half step closer to first base.)
Lefties, please comment on your life experiences, either positive or negative.