Left vs. Right

Every left-handed person (I, being one of them) is aware of the bias and favoritism towards the more common right-handedness in our society. Although it was not the case in my family (two of my younger siblings are also left-handed), I have heard of parents trying to influence, and even force, their left-hand-tending children to use their right hand to do everything. By doing that, they are already establishing a prejudice about a natural, inherent behavioral tendency.

The Latin word for left-handedness is sinistrum, from which we get the words sinister and sinistrous, meaning “unfavorable, unlucky, fraudulent, productive of evil, presaging ill fortune or trouble by reason of being on the left, leading to disaster.” Well, gee, give us a break! The French word for left is gauche, which has come to mean in English, “awkward, tactless, lacking social graces.“ The word awkward itself means “lacking in skill or dexterity (that is, right-handedness).” See how certain words and their definitions can influence people’s way of thinking? Even left-wing politics is supposed to be less favorable than the right-wing.

I think that right-handed people take so much for granted. With everything being designed with them in mind, they probably don’t even notice the favoritism. People meet and greet each other by shaking their right hands. Military personnel are taught to salute with the right as well. Whenever one takes a vow or is sworn in for anything, they are asked to raise their right hand. Why does it have to be the right? Common items like scissors are right-biased, coffee mugs have the message on the side for right-handed drinkers, even the lip of the dipper to a punch bowl is on the left side for a right-handed pourer. The jewel boxes that compact disks come in open from the right side (when you have the proper side up) so that the CD can be removed with the right hand.

The power switches on most computer equipment: monitors, drives, printers, etc., and other appliances and machines (at least on mine): microwave and toaster ovens, TV sets, my keyboard synthesizer and mixer, traditionally can be found on the right side of the unit. These things don’t pose any real problem, however, it just forces us southpaws, especially, to be more ambidextrous. For instance, it doesn’t bother me at all to have to operate my manual pencil sharpener and can opener or turn things off and on with my right hand. I found that I can operate my mouse with my left hand instead of my right. Musical instruments can be played only a certain way, regardless of one’s hand orientation, but I see no reason why a conductor cannot hold the baton in their left hand, if they so choose, just as leftie actor Richard Dreyfuss does in Mr. Holland’s Opus (1996).

I learned to bat right-handedly as a kid, because it seemed more natural to me for some reason, but I throw and catch with my left. In the Army I had to learn to shoot right-handedly because I had to aim with my right eye. I can close only my left eye and leave the right one open, not the other way around. It was often confusing for me. When the drill instructors would call for the left-handed shooters, I would have to think before responding, for although I am left-handed, I had to shoot with the right-handed trainees.

I can snap my fingers only on my right hand–I can’t as well with my left. I have discovered that I have more strength in my right hand and arm, though, than in my left. When I “make a muscle,” for instance, the right one has always been bigger than the left. So you see, with me and probably others as well, it’s not an exclusive thing. The hand that we favor sometimes depends on the particular situation and activity.

I just recently become aware of something that I didn’t know was a “thing.” On more than one TV crime drama a corpse has been definitely declared to be left-handed because he wore his watch on his right wrist. Is that supposed to be a universal certainty? I ask because I have always worn my watch on my left arm. I never saw the set-in-stone proclamation that everyone has to wear his watch on the opposite arm, as if we don’t have a choice. I don’t see what difference it makes. I contend that it’s merely a matter of preference. I most likely wear my watch on my left wrist because I am left-handed. An assessment like what they are making is only circumstantial at least. Even murder and suicide suspects have been dismissed by that assumption. Maybe the person is ambidextrous or purposely uses the other hand just to throw others off the track. “He couldn’t have shot himself in the right temple because he was left-handed.“ “Oh, well, then. Case closed.” “I have seen him conduct and I saw him bat once. He is apparently right-handed.“ I certainly would not make any foregone conclusions based on such indecisive evidence as that.

I have noticed, at least, some left-hand awareness in recent years, whereas when I was growing up, we were virtually ignored. Those who are old enough, remember the armed desk-chairs that we had in school with the writing area on the right side? We lefties had to turn around in the seat to write. Even if there was a left-sided desk manufactured, the school suppliers didn’t care enough to order some for their left-handed students. Writing in our notebooks, too, we always had rings, spirals and bindings to contend with.

I once encountered one of those “Left-handed Stores” during my travels, where every conceivable item has been geared strictly for the left-handed person, almost to the point of absurdity. But even these are not a common occurrence. I don’t think that we have a store in New York, for instance. I wish that manufacturers would design things ambidextrously without favoring one hand over the other, giving everyone an option. One such item is an electric iron. Some manufacturers now make them with the cord in the center of the handle instead of on the traditional left side (so that it’s out of the way for right-handed ironers), giving us lefties equal access and maneuverability.