Lefties are immigrating into the public spotlight

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Posted Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - 6:16pm

(Part two of a two-part series)

I am a left hander and hold no grudges though I remember much. In kindergarten we learned our ABCs, colors, shapes, how not to run with scissors and so on. I would happily be coloring the alligator that stood for the letter A when a classmate would say, "why are you using that hand? You look funny." Others would stop and stare and the few other lefties in class would share in the uncomfortable spotlight.

The kids were not the worst when it came to being a leftie. After a while they would accept it as a fact of life just as the sky was blue and the grass green. In fact, we were admired and others would try to write and use scissors with a left hand and do poorly so we all would just laugh and continue with our lives. Once in a while when a leftie was "discovered" kids would say, "You're left-handed? Wow, that's cool!" We thought leftie discrimination was over and gone for good, but we forgot about the teachers.

"Use your proper hand, not the left one!" teachers would sternly say. "You will smudge your writing!" Once in a while a substitute teacher that was "old-time" religious would come along and would see us using our left hands while we practiced addition and would say, "Don't use that devil hand!" while ripping the pencils out of our hands and pressing them into our right. Craft projects were always a hassle because the scissors didn't quite work so we adapted and used our right hands.

The uniqueness of the left-handed is not limited to the use of the left hand but extends to the dominant activity of the right brain hemisphere.

University College London's Chris McManus explains that the brains of leftie's are organized differently from right-handed brains, this unique structure causes a greater range of talents and abilities. Because lefties see and think things differently, this causes them to be more creative and intuitive than the average person. McManus suggests that the rise of people claiming to be left-handed could create an increase in the number of savants in the creative areas of art, sports and mathematics.

Science, over the years, has tried to explain the unique way in which a leftie thinks. A few divide right and left-handers into groups such as the theory that says right-handers process data using what is called the linear sequential method. This means a rightie must complete one data process before processing another (connecting the dots, in order, one at a time before the picture may be seen). Lefties use the visual simultaneous method which is the same as multi-tasking (the dots may be connected at any point and the picture is known before the connecting is complete, so one can move on to the next problem or process unless multiple problems are being processed at the same time).

To describe this theory, Wikipedia uses the analogy, "Suppose there were one thousand pieces of popcorn and one of them was colored blue. Right-handed people – using the linear sequential processing style – would look at the popcorn one at a time until they encountered the blue one. The left-handed person would spread out the pieces of popcorn and look at all of them to find the one that was blue."

Another theory, proposed by researcher Dr. Roger Sperry, says that lefties use a "synthesis" method to process information by looking at the whole problem and attempting to use patterns to solve it. Right-handers process data using the method of "analysis" meaning they must solve a problem by dividing it into pieces and evaluating each piece in turn.

It is not only thought that lefties have "visual-based" thought, it is a fact. The book Brians That Work a Little Bit Differently by Allen Bragdon and Dr. David Gamon tells of some of the evidence that supports this fact, "

In his book Right-Hand, Left-Hand, McManus argues that the proportion of left-handers is rising and left-handed people as a group have historically produced an above-average quota of high achievers. "Handedness researchers Stanley Coren and Clare Porac have shown that left-handed university students are more likely to major in visually-based, as opposed to language-based subjects. Another sample of 103 art students found an astounding 47 percent were left- or mixed-handed".

The ability to adapt has always been a characteristic of left-handed people in fact, the ambidextrous are most likely highly adapted lefties. This does not mean, however, that lefties breeze through life without problems caused by everyday tasks and implements. This is an age of comfort, everything is designed with maximum comfort in mind – for the majority.

Though lefties are adaptable, some things are harder to adapt to and there is limited comfort. Have you ever noticed a left-handed child attempt to use scissors? The blades bends the paper unless the child awkwardly places pressure on the blades to mimic the normal pressure of a right hand, once the child get the hang of this, another problem (or problems) appear. Scissors are manufactured so a rightie can see where the blades cut along a line but for a leftie, the view is limited and often the child is seen looking over the scissors while cutting. Prolonged use of right-handed scissors causes calluses or even blisters on the little fingers of a leftie child as well as a cramped hand. This may be why some lefties switch to the right hand when using scissors.

Vital to the Age of Technology is the computer, and with it, the mouse. This tool made my life a nightmare in elementary school when we first learned to use computers. I would "cleverly" move the mouse to the left side of the keyboard only to find out the the pointer on the screen refused to. Mouse pointers were right-handed sensitive and not only mimicked the direction of a rightie but, it also adjusted to the movement of a rightie (meaning that if you attempted to use the mouse in the left hand, the pointer would be extremely difficult to control because it would sweep over buttons and forget about dragging objects).

Mouse control for lefties was unheard of (the computer I am typing on does not have tools to switch to left-handed controls) and teachers did their best to convert you to the "right".

Note: adapting to the right-handed mouse was beneficial to lefties especially in office settings because a left-hander can operate the computer while writing with the left hand (Score: righties +1,000, lefties 1).

While researching this article, I discovered many explanations for my "deficiencies" one of which is that my family can always tell when my sister (a leftie) or I cut a slice of bread from a bread loaf. European knives are symmetrical but knives in places like Japan (and my kitchen) have the cutting blade on one side ( instead of the blade making a symmetrical "V", the blade is lopsided with the edge at the right). When a rightie cuts, say bread, the knife remains straight and the slice is even. When a leftie (like my sister and me) cuts with a right-handed knife, the blade turns under the opposite pressure and the slice of bread is uneven, the top is usually thinner than the bottom.

Can-openers are another nuisance to lefties. A left-hander tends to hold the handles with the right hand and turn with the left-a very awkward position. Vegetable peelers are annoying as well as dangerous to a left-hander. Instead of slicing away from the body in nice, even strokes, a leftie cut towards him or herself with force so the blade can cut. This can lead to skinned phalanges and cramped hands.

Other objects of inconvenience to a left-hander are: rulers, spiral notebooks, pencil sharpeners, keyboard number keys, corkscrews, boomerangs, measuring cups, watches, cameras, checkbooks and electronic card sweepers (like the ones at market stores).

Not only objects but, even actions can be obstacles for a leftie. Sitting next to a right-hander while writing or eating, tying ties and shoes, and my personal least-favorite opening doors. Despite all of these daily trials and the long-time suppression of left-handedness, lefties have infiltrated every institution of humankind just like the Illuminati (joke). From presidents to musicians to philosophers, lefties have influenced all aspects of civilization.

Barack Obama may be the 44th president of the United States but he is also the eighth-known left hander to serve in the Oval Office since James Garfield. I say "known" because left-handedness was strictly suppressed until a few decades ago when it was only "less-strictly" suppressed.

Microsoft creator and billionaire Bill Gates is one of many left-hand business moguls in the U.S. included in the list are IBM Lou Gerstner, John Rockefeller and Henry Ford.

Familiar lefties of the Silver Screen Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Tom Cruise, Whoopi Goldberg, Tim Allen, Julia Roberts, Robert DeNiro, Sarah Jessica Parker, Bruce Willis, and Emma Thompson. The "Queen of Daytime TV" and member of "World's 50 Most Powerful Women" Opera Winfrey is also left handed.

One of baseball's most recognizable legends, the Great Bambino, the Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth used his southpaw as a pitcher to win 85 games and three World Series before becoming a regular at the plate. Other southpaws Sandy Koufax, Steven Carlton, Lefty Grove, Warren Spahn, and Barry Bonds. Baseball contains many disadvantages and advantages for a southpaw, catcher, shortstop, second and third base are positions few southpaws can excel at because it requires them to throw the ball across their body. Lucky, lefties are superior on the mound and when batting, are a few steps closer to first than their right-handed counterparts.

Legend tells us to thank a prominent leftie for the way most of the world drives. Napoleon Bonaparte, it is said, protested to the practice of marching soldiers on the left side of the road with weapons on the right, ready for use because it put left-handers like himself at a serious disadvantage. Once Emperor, Napoleon ordered the rules to be changed so marching was done on the right. All people, not just soldiers, were ordered to change sides as well in every country he conquered (this is supposedly why we drive on the right and countries he did not conquer, like Britain and its colonies, drive on the left).

Other history-changing lefties include: Leonardo da Vinci (famous for his "mirror writing" though most left-handed children also practice "mirror writing" until it is stopped in the school system), Michelangelo, Raphael, Madame Marie Curie (discovered Plutonium and received two Nobel Prizes), Aristotle, Frederick Nietzsche, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Alan Turing (father of computer science) and Jimi Hendrix.

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