By Steve Jackson from the March 2011 Edition
One minute you are at relative peace with yourself in this world, or more precisely, that small part of the world you happen to inhabit. Then crash-bang-wallop, you’re kicked where the sun never shines and that fragile string we refer to as ‘persona’ is snapped with an almighty twang.
So what awesome disaster has befallen to force me to question my identity, who I am, or who I thought I was. Well, just 3 lines in some obscure medical journal no one ever reads except obscure medical journal readers.
After years of exhaustive study, a team of bespectacled, white coated, spotty anorak types at a major Science University, at a cost of some trillions of taxpayer’s dollars no doubt, have concluded that the age old theory that the right hemisphere of the brain is more dominant if you are left handed is hogwash (I plead the 5th if some anorak types read this and take offence)!
Doesn’t matter if you’re left handed, right handed, ambidextrous or capable of using any other parts of your anatomy (I’ll let your imagination run away with that one), the hemispheres of the brain interact in the same way. Not those exceptions where the brain functions totally out of kilter, as with psychopaths, autism or Brittany Spears…but the majority of normal, well adjusted people.
So why has this apparently insignificant snippet caused so much chaos in my mind you might ask? Well, having graduated (centuries ago it seems) with a degree in graphic design, spending most of my working career designing and compiling holiday brochures in the UK and being told throughout my life that I had a definite flair for the arts, the right hemisphere theory sat comfortably in my psyche. Interestingly, left-handed students are more likely to major in visually-based, as opposed to language-based subjects. In a sample of 103 art students it was found that an astounding 47% were left or mixed-handed.
And a lot of the greats throughout history were left handed, weren’t they? Tiberius, Julius Caesar, Alexander autrec , Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Albert the Great, Aristotle, Napoleon Bonaparte, Joan of Arc, Michelangelo, , Leonardo da Vinci, Rubens, Toulouse Schweitzer Winston Churchill, Jimi Hendrix…and Oprah Winfrey to name but a few.
From my own experiences, and the things I had read or been told during my life about left handedness, it appeared that many of the attributes accredited to lefties applied to myself. Left-handers’ brains are structured differently in a way that widens their range of abilities it was said, we are more likely than right-handers to be creative geniuses. Left-handed people have an excellent ability to multi-task and are predisposed to visual-based thought. Left-handers are also generally better at 3-dimensional perception and thinking.
Left-handers are also usually pretty good at most ball sports and things involving hand-to-eye co-ordination and excel particularly in tennis, baseball, swimming and fencing. Almost 40% of the top tennis pros are left-handed. I was also pretty good at most sports I tried and very good at some. Surprisingly, one in four of the Apollo astronauts were left-handed, instead of the one in ten you’d expect (it’s not a sport but I thought I’d throw it in anyway).
So I was one of a rare and talented breed (though I haven’t been up into space yet), one of just 10% of the population that had different thought processes compared to the rest of the masses. I had a uniqueness that I could be proud of.
But as with everything, there is an equal and opposite reaction and we lefties have our crosses to bear. Until quite late into my adulthood everything was made for the right-handers in this right handed world. You can’t use your stronger hand when confronted with a right handed can opener, using a fountain pen was near impossible and you had to teach yourself a writing technique that stopped your hand smudging your work.(BIC’S were banned at my school or hadn’t been invented yet, it was so long ago!). Why do you think most lefties handwriting is at a 45% angle, I ask? Ever considered that we lefties could never write in the left hand column of those big ring binders and had to take the damn page out each time?
Left handed electric guitars were either non existent or incredibly expensive in my early years and friends of mine who were keen musicians would buy a right handed version, reverse the strings and have to accept that the fret board keys, control knobs and output socket were not where they would normally be (out of the bloody way, that is). Look at some old footage of
Paul McCartney in the Beatles and maybe you’ll see something you haven’t noticed before. Jimi Hendrix played a right-handed Fender Stratocaster strung upside down to accommodate his left-handedness.
Other friends from these days who took up golf had the same problem and some learnt to play with right handed clubs. If you golfers out there get the chance, borrow a left handed club and try hitting a ball.
Chances are you’ll fail or become a serious liability to the physical welfare of those within striking distance in any direction.
What chance did I ever have in a right handed arm-wrestling contest? Another potential career path denied to me because of my cack handedness. It also takes me much longer to put coins into a slot machine with my right hand, though you could argue that it takes longer for me to lose my money than my right-handed counterpart.
Many functions we perform require the use of our stronger, more controlled hand. For example, we’ve all tried to write with our opposite hand at some time or another and know how incredibly hard that can be. For we lefties in this right hand world some simple tasks take on daunting proportions when our weaker, uncontrollable twin can’t cut the mustard. If you are a right-handed person, grab a pair of scissors with your left hand and try cutting a piece of paper. Don’t be surprised if the experience feels extremely awkward.
It pains me that, given that 4 of the 5 original designers of the Macintosh (Apple) computer were left-handed, including Bill Gates, an ideal opportunity to stick one over on you righties and design them with we left-handers in mind, was overlooked. Half of then left handed people use a computer mouse with their right hand, probably due to becoming tired of having to move mouse, pad, etc, etc, to the other side after a right-hander has used it. Every work station in an Internet café I’ve been in was set up for right-handed use, so the next time you see some poor sap struggling to drag wires and equipment across to the left hand side of the table, you’ll know why!
If you think this is all sour grapes over some minor inconveniences let me lay this one on you. Left-handers are, on average, likely to die 9 years earlier that our right handed compatriots. Boy, that’s some rod to bear isn’t it? Though it does beg the question that if I learn to write and use my right hand better that my left, can I deceive the grim reaper and get those 9 years back?
Here’s another. Left handed people are three times more likely than right handed people to become alcoholics (scientists speculate that it is because the right hemisphere of the brain has a lower tolerance for alcohol then the left side of the brain). My theory is we turn to the bottle after finding out we die 9 years earlier!
I suppose I should be thankful not to be born 200 or so years ago or earlier. In the Middle Ages, writing with your left hand was punishable by death. During the 18th and 19th centuries left-handers were severely discriminated against and it was often “beaten out” of us. In ages past, society was not sympathetic to the left-handed. Young students who preferred using their left hand to write were punished for doing so. Some of these eventually learned to write with their right hand, but only after enormous effort. In adulthood, left-handers were often shunned by society, resulting in fewer marrying and reproduction. As discrimination was reduced, the number of natural left-handers who stayed left-handed increased from 5% to 10% in the last hundred years. The rising age of motherhood has also contributed as, statistically, older mothers are more likely to give birth to left-handed children.
Despite some of the drawbacks to being a lefty, especially those 9 years of life I may lose, I am content to be labelled with the attributes and, just as importantly, the deficiencies of my creed. It gives me a get out clause to all those things that I am not very good at or desperately struggle with. As a child I excelled at art and sports, and laboured massively with learning my native tongue, the English language. I have never truly felt comfortable when writing and would avoid it whenever possible. Much easier to visualise it and draw it if I could. But I had a rational explanation for this avoidance, I’m a lefty and the way my brain functions calls the shots. I can’t do anything about it I could justify to myself.
This shortcoming was also the worn out excuse for my woeful attempts (or complete lack of attempts, to be brutally honest) to learn Spanish in the 3 years I have been away from the UK. It’s nothing to do with laziness or lack of intelligence on my part, I reasoned, it can be laid squaring at the foot of the old grey matters doorstep.
There appears to be some much evidence pointing to the left-hand, right-sided brain theory that I find it very hard to accept this new study. Maybe I’ll send them a trillion dollars and request they ‘re-evaluate the data’.
For that kind of money they’ll print anything I want, I would imagine. Can I have my identity back, please!