It's not easy being a lefty!
In a world that is designed for right-handed people, Sudha Subramaniam attempts to understand the needs of a left-handed student
Are you wondering how to train your left-handed child on how to handle the nitty gritty of daily life? With over 80 per cent of our entire population being righties, let’s try and understand what life must be like for lefties.
There is no scientific evidence till date to explain why a person is born with a certain hand preference. However, most people speculate that it could be because of the way our brain is designed. The left hemisphere of the brain controls the right side of our body.
The left side of the brain is also the one that controls language and speech ability in humans. Over the period of evolution, the left hemisphere of the brain was designed to aid language (writing, reading and speech). This probably resulted in the majority of the population being right handed. Compared to this number, only a small percentage of children are born with a different hand preference. Scientists attribute this to possible DNA changes, but are not sure if it is the only explanation.
Are there more lefties now?
Earlier when children exhibited left-handedness, parents, teachers and society pressurised the child to use only the right-hand. Left-hand usage was associated with the devil and all things evil. In some cases, pencils were snatched from kids and they were forced to write with their right hand. Eating was always carried out with the right hand due to social norms. So much so that eating with the other hand is considered socially inappropriate even to this day.
But lefties have been around from time immemorial. Even cave paintings have the occasional image of a man using a weapon with the left hand. With time, left-handed people have been accepted and hence, are more free to exhibit their hand preference.
A lefty’s life in a righty’s world
Ever wondered if it is difficult for a lefty to lead an easy life? The world is better suited for righties — be it the ‘enter’ button on the laptop — which is to the right, or a door handle, which opens mostly to the right or even the most mundane scissors or screw drivers — all meant to be used easily by a righty. Then how does a left- handed person perform everyday chores? Meet Zayne, a 10-year-old left-handed boy.
He finds it convenient to use his left hand for most things. He explains how he holds the pencil sharpener in his left hand and turns the sharpener, unlike the rest who turn the pencil to sharpen the lead. He would love to own a pencil sharpener for a lefty someday (which is available but difficult to find) Incidentally, Zayne’s mother, Sejal, is also left handed. Due to social pressures and other difficulties, she taught herself to use her other hand. Sejal can now use both her hands with equal ease.
As we attempt to understand a lefty’s life, it is important to note that they need to be taught a little differently so that they can adapt well to a righty’s world.
For example, not many of us realise that a lefty would feel a lot more comfortable and confident to cross the ‘t’ from right to left than the tradition. However, since we have traditionally been the generation that usually crosses ‘J’ and ‘T’ from left to right, we insist that is how it needs to be done.
Hasn’t a right-handed person tried to use the ‘wrong hand’ and found it difficult? Very few can be ambidextrous – the ability to use both hands with perfect ease. Finger dexterity and ease is a genetic gift. So when people use the ‘other hand’, they naturally tend to be slower at completing tasks.
Are we biased?
All computers have a keyboard suited for a right-handed person and lefties need to adapt to a world that is designed for righties. So much so that a person eating with his/her left hand looks out of place. To this day, we insist that children eat with their right hand, even if they are naturally geared to eat with their left. We don’t allow children to offer prayers with the left hand only because the left hand is considered to be disrespectful. We even brand the people using the ‘other’ hand. In Hindi, we call it, ulta haath, meaning opposite or the wrong hand.
How can we help ?
We now know the number of compromises a lefty has to make to lead a normal life with minimal discomfort. But what can the rest of us do to make a lefty’s life just as simple and easy as that of a righty ?
The first thing that we should do is to learn to recognise the fact that the world favours the majority and therefore, if there is a person who is comfortable using his/her left hand, do not point out to that person that he/she is odd. They probably already feel that way.
Second, learn to accept the lefty in our life for what he/she is. Meena Shyam, a 42-year-old mother of three, is a housewife. She has been a lefty all her life. She eats with her right hand because she was told by her aunt to do so in her childhood. Meena, who is from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, does most of the chores with her left hand. She realises that she is odd but takes it in her stride.
The biggest gift, however, is her acceptance into the family with no added pressure to change her hand preference. It also helps that she comes from a family of left-handed people. Her father eats with his left hand. Meena’s daughter, Krishna, is also a lefty.
Yes, it is time to stop reprimanding the child to use the right hand. It is perfectly fine to encourage your child to use his/her left hand and that there is no association of Satan or ill luck. Take cricket for instance — the left- handed bowler/batsman has always had an advantage on the field.
Left-handed people are known to be creative and intelligent. But that need not necessarily be true for all lefties in the world.
Let us learn to be sensitive to others. For example, while handing over a pen/glass, realise that you are attending to a left-handed person.
Teach children who are naturally left handed to write or do their chores in a way that is natural to them and not impose the ‘right-handed’ attitude on them.