I am left-handed. Although, my younger brother was originally left-handed, he was corrected in grade school. He likes to joke that he’s been robbed of his true self as a result. But since he ended up in the U.S. military’s Special Forces, I think that being right-handed served him better.

It turns out that being left-handed makes you clumsier and no one wants a clumsy soldier. Well, maybe you don’t mind clumsiness in the opposing side or in your wartime comedies, but generally speaking, no.

Left-handedness was never something that I thought about as I was growing up. We didn’t talk about it as a family. If someone pointed out that I favored my left hand, I shrugged it off and soon forgot about it. After all, it’s not like I could have done anything differently. It was what it is.

But as I became more aware of myself as a separate entity on this planet, there were a few things I started to notice.

Individual school desks are made for right-handers. I didn’t have an arm rest, instead my elbow free floated.

I compensated my writing grip by wrapping my thumb around my pencil and I pressed so hard on my paper that you could (well, sort of) braille read the other side.

I was never good at using scissors, and apparently I still use them in such a way that folks exclaim “Oh, my God” when they see me cutting paper.

The pinky side of my hand would be covered in blue ink or pencil lead because my hand smudged ink or lead as I wrote across the paper. In fact, one of my teachers yelled at me for my messy handwriting. I didn’t know what to do so I stood there at the front of the class until she got angry enough to make me cry.

Lastly, I realized how hard it was to write in the standard vertical spiral-bound notebooks. Once I got to the right page, I tried to write without my hand touching the spirals. Most of the time, I squished my hand on top of them because it felt impossible to write hooking my arm around like a snake trying to consume its own tail.

Most left-handers end up writing this way. My partner does. Some lefties also end up leaning their letters in a peculiar looking away. I don’t do that. But I have noticed how much my handwriting has changed over the years. To this day, I have different styles. The problem with this is my signature in my passport (and sometimes banking paperwork) is not how I normally sign my name. I fear my inconsistencies one day will get me in trouble.

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Depending on what babies and toddlers are trying to do they will use a different hand, but there isn’t consistency across ages or stages. Around 4 years old children will develop a preference for one hand over the other. However, there is evidence that handedness is genetic. Apparently, in the womb, an infant will favor a particular side or thumb.

Handedness could be a tricky thing to define because folks can use different hands for different tasks. Athletes and artists are good examples. Holding a golf club or baseball bat or playing an instrument with one hand, but writing with the other. There are many examples, but generally speaking, hand-dominance is defined by what hand if you use to write, throw, and eat.

There are more men than women who are left-handed. It is debatable whether animals display handedness. Most animals do not favor one paw over the other. However, if you do believe in handedness in animals especially when it comes to primates or rats, right-handedness still dominates. [1]

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When we moved from Hawaii to California, I was the new kid at school and treated like a pariah for some reason. Maybe it was because I was the only Asian kid other than my brother, or maybe I wasn’t considered cool enough – or both. In any case, this 6th grade class liked to play softball and I hadn’t ever played before, so I didn’t know how to hold a bat.

After the shock of “you don’t know how to play softball?” wore off, another classmate, William walked up to the plate and put his arms around me in an effort to show me where to put my hands, how to swing, and stand. Unbeknownst to me, the girls got jealous (smirk) – and he taught me how to bat right-handed.

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Remarkably, handedness has existed as far back as 10,000 years ago, and has remained roughly 90% right and 10% left since then, but scientists cannot agree as to why we use a dominate hand. Especially, why left-handers have not died out of existence due to their great medical disadvantages such as higher risk of mental and terminal diseases (multiple sclerosis and even breast cancer is higher in left-handed women).

There has been one fascinating theory that left-handedness is advantageous in one arena only, and that is in fighting. Because being a “south paw” is rare, it can give a fighter an edge, and a level of unpredictability, which was also mirrored when researchers looked at the number of lefties in team sports. While this theory sounds convincing, it isn’t when it is applied to women because we are less likely to have “evolved” this way given that we are less likely to physically engage in fighting. [2]

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When I was in living in a small town in Colorado, I shot a gun for the first time. Even though I grew up playing video games, I don’t think the gun I held for Nintendo’s Duck Hunt counts. Although when I did hold a gun, it was a rifle to shoot at clay pigeons. I was working at a summer camp for kids, my boyfriend-at-the-time was the program director. He was used to teaching children, so he was a good teacher giving me all the safety bits that I remember to this day, like, “it’s not a flag, don’t wave it around.”

In retrospect, Easter Sunday was probably not the best day to shoot at clay pigeons. We had a lot of fun though, and we even improvised when we got tired at shooting towards the sky. The guys starting rolling the clay disks through the tall grass and we pretended they were rabbits or something like that. We didn’t get drunk or anything, but we did make an awful lot of noise with the gunshots echoing throughout the valley. God knows what people thought.

Afterwards, my then-boyfriend got the bright idea that he wanted to hunt, but we had to get our hunting license. I tried to keep an open mind and went along with this even though the idea of killing a deer, getting up before dawn, in the early morning cold, and sitting still waiting for hours did not appeal to me at all.

And even though I could not shoot anything near the bullseye or let alone anywhere on the paper target (embarrassing!), they still gave me a hunter’s license anyway. Of course, this is the same state that allowed me to trade in my Hawaii driver’s license for a Colorado one even though I had never driven in snow before. Somehow I had convinced myself that they would surely give me some helpful tips for driving in inclement weather.

&&&

We’ve been told that left-handers are “right brain dominate” while right-handers are the opposite. But it is not necessarily true that right-handers are left brain language people, and vice versa. About 20% of left-handers are “right brain” and another 20% engage both hemispheres.

Even though a right-hander’s brain will more likely exhibit signs of predictability like having a larger left brain hemisphere, the left-hander’s brain will not. Brain activity is less likely to be localized and more diffuse for everyday tasks. There is even evidence that suggests that left-handers’ brains enjoy more synchronicity between the two hemispheres. [1]

Interestingly, more left-handers are prone to schizophrenia while less towards Parkinson’s disease. [3]

&&&

Despite the brain benefits of using both hands, which I do (hello, computer mouse), learning to drive a motorbike in Thailand felt like a slow and clumsy process. Just to back up a bit (pun intended), I did learn how to drive a stick shift, but after a couple of years, I gave up on it when I killed the truck in the middle of a busy parking lot.)

Anyway, learning to drive a motorbike was a big deal, but a pretty common initiation for expats and tourists. I learned on a red 110 cc Suzuki Swift. It was a kick-start, a non-automatic bike, and this was just one of problems for a left leg and hand dominate person.

But after I realized that it was my handedness, I felt much better about my seemingly slow abilities. I had to gain strength in my non-dominate leg in order to start the bike. Then, I learned how to use my right hand to accelerate with more control. I learned the hard lesson of not putting the bike in gear until I was ready to move forward. And I had to consciously talk through which side the gears and breaks were on because the hand breaks weren’t something I should rely upon in a hard stop.

&&&

The Sword and Shield Hypothesis is another interesting theory. Typically, a person holds their sword in their right hand and in their left, their shield. The idea being that we attack, use strength and force with our dominate hand, and we defend or push away with our left. [4] You might try this (without thinking if you can), which hand do you use to ‘stop’?

My partner likes to say he uses his left hand for subtle or precise work like drawing and writing, but he throws with his right, since it’s his power hand. It’s possible he’s ambidextrous. Funnily we just had a heated debate over the direction of my check/tick marks. I make my marks the opposite of a right-handers, or as he just said ‘backwards’, and told me that I must fix my ticks immediately. I will not!

But he was the one to clue me in to the fact that Asians have a pretty strong bias against left-handers. When he was working in China, he had to meet his boss somewhere to sign something. And as he was using his left-hand, his boss said, “Don’t you ever use that filthy hand in front of me again.” Of course, my BF told him to shove it in so many words.

A quick internet search does indeed produce evidence of Asians forcing natural lefties to write and eat right-handed especially in India and Indonesia. I understand this in India where you eat with your right hand (no utensils), and ‘clean yourself after defecating’ with the left. When we were in Malaysia, eating at an Indian restaurant, everyone was using their hands, but us. I hope they weren’t too offended.

In Thailand, there’s this habit of not using soap to wash your hands after using the toilet, UNLESS, you do no. 2. I’ve been on a crusade to get my students to use soap after they go to the bathroom, regardless, and also to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze. When we moved to Cambodia, I was thrilled to see soap in the restrooms.

It’s odd to me that the left hand is considered dirty when soap is around…never been a fan of tradition.

Further reading reveals the word ‘left’ has negative connotations in many languages. There’s an exhaustive list on wiki ranging from bad luck, clumsiness, infidelity, stupidity, to even associations with the devil and murderous tendencies. Seriously? The term south paw doesn’t sound so bad now…

In Vietnam, students are deducted points from their exam if they use their left- hand.

In Japan, women were afraid that being left-handed hurt their chances of finding a husband. [5]

And I’ve found two blog posts (wasn’t looking) on what it’s like to be left-handed expats in Korea and China. So obviously, it’s a bigger deal than we Westerners were aware of.

This feels so different from when my stepdad reversed the strings of a bass guitar, so I could play left-handed. No one has ever made a big deal out of it except to point it out, “hey, you’re a lefty!” I’d shrug because it was like saying, “hey, you can talk!” I mean, it’s nice of folks to notice, but I never know what to say. Although there was a time when we noticed how many teachers in the teachers room are lefties. That was fun.

Sometimes I remember to sit on the outside of a table so I don’t jab anyone with my elbow while eating. I shake hands with my right. I play along with the right-handed world. I cooperate, it’s all good. But it’s kind of wild to think about two-thirds of the world considering my handedness as ‘wrong’ or ‘dirty’. Sheesh! Give me a chance to talk, or do something first, and then label me.

I’m right eye, left ear, left hand, and left leg dominate. What about you?

 


[1] https://rightleftrightwrong.com

[2] https://www.scq.ubc.ca/the-fighting-hypothesis-stability-of-polymorphism-in-human-handedness/

[3] https://edition.cnn.com/2019/09/05/health/uk-left-handed-genes-brain-structure-scn-scli-intl/index.html

[4] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/malleable-mind/201205/emotion-is-reversed-in-left-handers-brains

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bias_against_left-handed_people

https://www.fastcompany.com/90215373/psychologists-explain-how-left-handed-people-work-differently

29 replies on “Left-handedness: some stories and some science

  1. I am right handed. But some years ago I learnt how to use my left hand in parts, in a job I once did.
    I was a packer. I used a tape gun to seal the goods I was packing and so this being a regular routine meant I developed repetition in my wrist and to ease and eventually remove the pain and problem, I learnt to hold the tape gun in my left hand. I would then have half a day using left hand in my job, then my right hand for the other half of shift. Or alternate between hands every two hours.

    I may not be in this job now, but I can still use a tape gun in my left hand, if required.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha! Yeah, good point, we often compensate for injuries or for work by using our other hand.

      Because doctors and experts have told us to use our other hand for things like brushing our teeth, I’ve tried to ‘switch it up a bit’ for the sake of brain-health.

      Maybe you should tape things more often? 😛 Or simply try using your left hand for various tasks!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. 😁 I even to write with my left during the time. Thankfully I did not have to write too often, as it took me forever. Mum joked at the time that she could read my writing. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh man…. me and wanting to be a south paw have a long history. I could go on, but long story short when I was young I heard somewhere that artists tended to be left-handed, and I wanted to be artistic and different, so I intentionally practiced using my left hand (took notes in class left-handed) etc. I already “moused” left handed bc my dad did and so the mouse pad was on the left side of the home computer. Now I only eat and mouse left handed, so I do relate to sitting on the “left side) corner of the table. People see me chopsticking left handed and writing right handed so they assume I’m ambidextrous, but I’m not naturally, just the result of a little lamb wanting to be an artist. 🤩

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OMG, that this hilariously awesome. A little experiment. Artists are also supposed to be troubled and tortured so I’m glad you didn’t do anything along those lines.

      RIGHT?

      You probably, instead, just rewired your brain so that it’s more interconnected. High five? (Left or right?)

      I can’t imagine using my mouse left-handed, it seems too weird now. But in Thailand (you might have noticed) folks use both hands for eating (fork and spoon), so I doubt anyone notices me or my partner eating any differently.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m also left-handed and have always felt very proud of it for some reason. As an athlete it’s a big advantage in almost every sport I’ve played, except field hockey where everyone has to play right-handed. (The hockey sticks are flat on one side and curved on the other and there are no left-handed sticks.)

    I had no idea left-handedness was so taboo in East Asia! I also struggled with eating when I went to India many years ago — I did my best to eat with my right hand and not to hand things (like money) to people with my left hand. It was hard though.

    My 2.5-year-old nephew is showing signs of left-handedness and I’m really hoping it happens 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I had no idea you were left-handed! It’s great when we start writing and it opens up all these other (tabs) little doors, and you learn more about other ppl, too. Cool. We should start a club 😛

      Ah, so the sport advantage is reconfirmed. Had no idea about hockey either. I was never sporty, just clumsy. Ah well. Maybe if my ping pong game gets up to snuff, I can start dominating.

      Yeah, if the BF didn’t mentioned it, I’d never know, honestly. Thais have never said anything contrary to me about my handedness. Of course, they could be too polite, but even my rowdy teen students have never mentioned it.

      India! Nephew! Oh, my!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Left-handedness appears to run in my family. I have a left-handed sister, many nieces (oddly, no nephews) who are left-handed, and both of my sons are left-handed.
    As a right-handed parent it was a bit challenging to teach them things like using a knife or tying their shoelaces. They are both in their 30s now but I still cringe every time they pick up a sharp knife.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I had no idea there was such a stigma against left-handed press in Asia. In the countries where I’ve lived it’s an inconvenience and often commented on, but generally accepted.

    I’m the only left-hander in my immediate family, and so relate to Joanne’s comment about parents’ reactions to using knives. My mum still leaves the room when I start cutting things. What is it with that? I don’t run screaming from blade-waving right-handers.

    Like most of us, I make do with the overwhelmingly right-handed design of the world, though it annoys me more as I’ve got older. My hand-writing has improved now I’m not being yelled at for “not doing it properly” but like you, I struggle with the design of notebooks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Another leftie! Ah, discovering, uncovering some blogging ground. 🙂

      As far as “the others”, I think the way we do things like cut paper and produce looks scary, and we might even hold things in a way that look odd therefore, dangerous. I’m guessing here…

      I’ve stopped using spiral bound notebooks. 😛

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I haven’t found an alternative to spiral-bound books that I like, probably because I stick things onto some pages and need the flexibility to do that. I suppose I could try turning them landscape and having the spiral at the top …. 🤔

        Like

      2. You know, now that I think about it. Spiral notebooks aren’t really popular over here, so I guess it’s been a kinder transition. Good luck!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Great article! My mom was left-handed. I’m right-handed but shoot pool with my left hand since my mom taught me. This bias against left-handed people is so strange to me. Mom told me a lot of horror stories she went through in school because of it. Fortunately there are a lot of great things lefties can buy now that cater to them: scissors, mugs, notebooks, etc. Personally, I get excited when I meet a lefty. I’ve also found them to be more creative and interesting. Although that could be my own bias due to my love for my mom. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How lovely. I like a bias towards lefties 🙂 because it’s been a pain more than anything. And I never use left-handed products, I think because I’ve adapted and I’m okay with it all. But you are right, we are more creative and interesting. 😀 (Just kidding – sort of)

      Like

  7. A very interesting article. Coincidentally, my baby was grabbing something with his left hand the other day (but he’s still too young to say if he’s right or left handed) and my mother in law said something along the lines of “if he’s left handed we’ll have to force him to use his right hand”. I was like WTF, no. I didn’t know left handers are still “corrected” in here. Sigh.
    You can’t use scissors correctly? But don’t left handeds use special scissors? Something about the cutting part not being in the correct position? I have tried to use “normal” scissors with my left hand and it’s just not possible. BTW I’m right handed.
    How’s your handwriting? In school I always used to notice that left handeds had “ugly” handwriting, but I think it’s just because our direction of writing is not suitable for writing from the left. I wonder if left handed Arabic speakers have the best calligraphy in Arabic??

    Like

  8. I’m right eye, both-ear, left hand, and right leg dominate. 😉
    When I was a child, my mom bought me scissors for lefties … And it turned out that this was actually the only thing I could solely do with my right hand 😅🙈
    I can totally relate to the “sitting at the table’s edge” (just had this collision problem again today when I sat somewhere in-between).
    But to be honest even in countries where the left hand is considered dirty, I would not try to switch to the right hand. People told me that this would then however be offensive to the respective culture, but then again what about that culture being offensive to all left-handed people, for reasons that are simply not relevant anymore in a world of soap?!

    And after all it would be me eating my own food with my own “dirty” hand, so it should not be offensive, right? Why did you still avoid to eat with your hands then when you were at the Indian restaurant?
    Regards,
    Fabian

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You bring up a good point. It’s tough when traveling because we are visitors in a new country and we don’t want to be offensive. But I understand what you are saying. I think 😛

      We didn’t actively avoid eating with our hands, we were using utensils when I noticed everyone else using their hands. And by then it was like too late. I saw no reason to change. And since it’s a tourist town, I also didn’t think anyone would be offended. No one certainly made any indication that they did. Funny thing is most people are self-absorbed anyway…Cheers.

      Like

  9. There’s some old Asian thinking about being left-handed as being wrong. It is prevalent in my parents. My mother commented on one of her grandchildren being left-handed as not good.
    I don’t think it’s good to force a child to be a right handed.
    I am clearly right-handed. I don’t even like hanging on bike handle with left -hand and signalling with my right hand.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah it’s weird. In their defense, folks honestly believe being left handed is bad. And they’re trying to spare left-handers from x,y,z problems, I suppose. Well meaning, but so strange when one thinks about it.

      Like

  10. Such a timely post! I was cutting up a birthday cake with a friend and she commented how difficult it is to use my cake slicer because it was obviously made for right-handers.

    I have trained myself to be ambidextrous but there are still some tasks I am more comfortable using my left hand/arm for.

    More thought provoking is how kids growing up with these challenges feel – I wonder if we don’t give them enough care & airtime when we “encourage” them to use their other hand.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I keep thinking about can openers lately. How difficult it used to be, but now I used them without any problems (mostly). I think it’s good for right-handers especially to use their left from time to time. It seems to be good for the brain. Lefties, it seems already are more ambidextrous.

      Like

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