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Left vs right: an even-handed perspective

By: James Aitchison

Is it really a right-handed world?  Are left-handed people forever to be judged as second-class citizens?

The Latin word for left is sinister.  The French word for left is gauche.  Small wonder the odds are stacked against left-handed people; historically they have been judged both evil and clumsy!

Take it a step further: in many religions, such as Christianity, the right hand of God is the favoured hand.

The bias against left-handed people dates from the dawn of time.  The left hand symbolised the power to shame society.  It was used as a metaphor for misfortune, natural evil, or punishment from the gods.  

In the Middle Ages, things only got worse.  The left-hander constantly lived in danger of being accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake.

As late as the early 1900s, criminologists and psychologists regarded left-handed people as “primitive and abnormal”, and “stubborn, rebellious, rigid”.  In fact, schools used to tie children’s left arms to their bodies to train them to be right-handed.

According to science, the truth is that left-handedness is related to “atypical brain lateralisation”.  It is nothing more than a form of neurodiversity which blesses (and not besets) some 10-15% of the global population.  Moreover, there is no difference in IQ levels among left- and right-handed folk.  Absolutely none!

Since the mid-1980s, scientists have known that the two brain hemispheres of left-handers are more strongly connected than those of right-handers.

And, thanks to Harvard Medical School research, we know that orthopaedic surgeons, librarians, and mathematicians are mostly right-handed, while architects and attorneys were “either the least right-handed or the most left-handed”.  Go figure!

Euronews tells us that the abuse of left-handers is “the last acceptable bigotry”.  Sadly, many left-handed children still face prejudice and punishment.  And we still live with a biased vocabulary: adroit, righteous, upright, put to rights, set to rights, righted, right angle, right-minded — right?

The good news is that it matters little whether you are right- or left-handed.  History, arts, and culture have been shaped by some very famous left-handers: Barack Obama, Prince William, Keanu Reeves, Oprah Winfrey, Buzz Aldrin, Tom Cruise, Charlie Chaplin, Babe Ruth, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Paul McCartney, Angelina Jolie, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Bob Geldof, Neil Armstrong, Robert de Niro, Matt Dillon, Brad Pitt, Lewis Carroll, Harpo Marx, Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, Napoleon, and Winston Churchill.  So, if you are left-handed, you have every right to be proud!

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