Feeling left out? Well, you’re not alone. This past Saturday, left-handed activists gathered to celebrate the 35th anniversary of International Left-Handers Day. Their objective was to encourage the awareness of the “inconveniences facing lefties” in a world where 90 percent of its inhabitants are right handed.
Studies show that lefties are an anxious lot, but this may be for good reason. Certainly the American lexicon has been unkind to lefties. The word “right,” for example, means “correct,” while the word “left” often carries a negative connotation, as in “leftover” or “left behind.” The Latin sinistra means left, but the word has evolved in English as “sinister,” meaning evil. Conversely, the Latin for right is “dexter,” from which we get the English “dexterous,” or skillful. The French word for “left” is gauche which, in English, means “crude” or “lacking grace.” The English language, it seems, isn’t particularly evenhanded.
The left side doesn’t fare much better in superstitions. The Romans believed that getting out of bed left-foot first was an act of foolishness, one sure to bring about ill fortune. People who are destined for ill fortune, of course, are often unhappy, which is why grumpy people are still asked, “Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed today?” We also throw a pinch of spilled salt over our left shoulders because evil spirits are believed to lurk on our left side, and the pinch of salt, it is hoped, will ward such spirits off.
Speaking of evil, Satan is often depicted as a “southpaw,” especially in Tarot cards. Accordingly, the left hand is featured prominently in sorcery, witchcraft, and Satanic rituals. By contrast, in Christianity, the right hand of God is an exalted position.
If being confused for a sorcerer, a witch, or Satan isn’t bad enough, then lefties also have to try to get by in a world largely configured for right handers. Take, for example, a pair of scissors. Regular scissors simply won’t cut when employed with the left hand. Circular saw blades, however, will—much to the chagrin of lefties that have had the misfortune of a self-administered and inadvertent amputation while reaching across a dangerous machine intended for right-handed people.
Studies also show that left-handed people are more likely to suffer from dyslexia, immune system disorders, Crohn’s disease, and colitis. They also die earlier than righties, a fact that has to be pretty depressing—which may explain why lefties suffer more from mental disorders such as schizophrenia, alcoholism, depression, bed wetting, and criminal behavior.
The sum total of these findings prompted the magazine Psychology Today to publish an article titled “So Long, Southpaw,” a curiously cold response, perhaps, from a magazine specializing in psychology. Fed up with such slights, one left-handed reader sent a threatening (and anonymous) note to a leading “handedness” researcher with words to this effect: “Right handers won’t live longer than us criminal lefties if we kill you first.”
On a happier note, many studies show that lefties are also disproportionately successful. As it turns out, lefties and righties enjoy more or less the same success in terms of a statistical average, but left handers have greater variance in their success—that is, they are more concentrated in the lower and upper echelons of society.
In the latter category are capitalists such as Henry Ford and Bill Gates, men who cranked out paradigm-shifting products with their left hands, while heavy-duty thinkers such as Benjamin Franklin and Sir Isaac Newton were also southpaws.
Successful athletes are disproportionately left handed. You have, for example, tennis stars (e.g., Jimmy Connors, Rafael Nadal), basketball stars (e.g., Larry Bird, David Robinson, Jalen Rose), and a plethora of baseball stars (e.g., Randy Johnson, Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth).
Football seems to deserve its own category, inasmuch as Sebastian Janikowski, Michael Vick, and O.J. Simpson have not only demonstrated their ability on the gridiron, but also while moonlighting as left-handed criminals.
The creative arts appear particularly attractive to lefties. There are famous actors (e.g., Julia Roberts, Morgan Freeman), artists (e.g., Raphael, M. C. Escher, Michelangelo), and musicians (e.g., Paul McCartney, Wynton Marslis, Eminem).
Left handers are most dominant, however, in the world of politics, and that’s no left-handed compliment. Appropriately, socialist leaders such as Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez are lefties. In the capitalistic United States both left-wingers and right-wingers are often anatomical lefties. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy are lefties. Senator John McCain is a lefty, as is, by necessity, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. President Truman signed bills with his left hand and President Ford, who was sometimes said to have “two left feet,” was also left handed. In fact, four of the past five presidents have been left handed—Reagan, G. H. W. Bush, Clinton, and Obama.
So the next time someone is berating lefties, it’s perhaps worth remembering that it is a left hand that is in control of nuclear weapons. That’s not someone you want getting up on the wrong side of the bed.
Left handers, it seems, are blessed with creativity, leadership skills, and independence. On the other hand…lefties tend to be afflicted with greater anxiety, more neuroses, and physical health issues. It is an intriguing assemblage of characteristics, a mixed bag, but taken together, it’s all right.