With just 10 percent of the population being left-handed, it can be easy for everyone else to forget we’re living in a right-handed world. But aside from making it tough to cut a straight line with a pair of scissors designed for righties, being a southpaw can also have some subtle effects on our physical and mental health. That fact will be interesting to my left-handed friends.
It seems the brains and bodies of lefties may operate differently than those of right-handed people (and in mixed-handed people, who may have different dominant hands for different tasks). “Handedness seems to be determined very early on in fetal development, when a lot of other things about your future are being determined as well,” says Ronald Yeo, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Texas-Austin.
Here’s a look at some of the most common facts about being left-handed, and what it might really mean to everyday life.
Right-handed people live on average nine years longer than left-handed people. It has been said that those who are left handed are five times more likely to die in an accident while driving. It can be difficult to live in a world designed for right-handed people.
My dad was left handed, but when he entered school in the 1920s, it was thought that that shouldn’t be allowed. He was made to write with his right hand and thus became ambidextrous. Even though his handwriting wasn’t very legible, the talent of being able to use both hands, depending on the situation, was a good one.
My brother, Mike, inherited dad’s left-handedness, and by the 1950s thinking had changed and he was allowed to write with that hand. He also had quite an advantage as a left-handed catcher on his high school baseball team. He’s one of those lefties who wants to sit at the end of the table so elbows don’t bump while eating.
One of his favorite stories is about when he wanted to learn to play golf. Our dad said, “Here, just use my clubs.” Remember, my father was a left-handed person who was forced into the right-handed life. Dad showed Mike how to swing with his right-handed clubs, but Mike could never get it, since he was so left-handed. He says it was traumatic and is sure that’s why he’s not on the pro tour today!
Only slightly more talented than my brother is golf pro Phil Michelson. He plays golf left-handed even though he is right-handed. He did this because he learned by mirroring his father’s swing so he could play with his father and his friends on a Saturday morning. He started when he was only three years old.
Unfortunately, most left-handers have to drag the base of their bare hand through their writing and it can become covered with ink, because they are moving it over something they just wrote. Other things that are tough are writing in three-ring binders and spiral notebooks. Also, ballpoint pens don’t work as well, because you’re pushing, not pulling the ball. In a car, the driver’s cup holder is for the right hand, near the right-handed gearshift.
In years past, the bias against left-handed children has resulted in some pretty extreme measures. A Zulu child who ate porridge with the left hand could expect to have that hand burned in the hot porridge as a lesson. Even in the 20th-century, British children could expect to have their left hand tied down to make them use their right one. (My father-in-law, Win Behrens, experienced that in school nearly 100 years ago). British child psychologists that supported this retraining method also preached that children who used their left hand were simply demonstrating – and developing – a defiant personality that needed to be corrected as soon as possible.
There’s one thing that most experts can agree on: lefties have the upper hand (pun intended) when it comes to one-on-one sports like tennis, boxing, bowling and pitching a baseball. It seems that athletes (both left- and right-handed) usually train against right-handed opponents. When finally facing a southpaw, lefties can easily adjust, but righties are at a double disadvantage. They’re forced to engage in an asymmetrical battle for which they’re poorly prepared, against an opponent who’s experienced at compensating with this type of situation.
Most left-handed people cope so well, the rest of us, doing it the right way, don’t even notice!
(Melanie Behrens- firstname.lastname@example.org)
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