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All’s right with the world: And that’s my problem | Ken Hill

Wednesday, June 22, 2022 @ 1:12 PM | By Ken Hill

Last Updated: Tuesday, June 21, 2022 @ 8:09 AM

Ken Hill %>
Ken Hill
The light went on in my brain when I threw a pass in touch football one day when I was in my early 20s. I happened to be wearing a watch with an expansion bracelet and as my arm swung gracefully and the ball sailed off in a perfect spiral (at least as I remember it), the watch snapped back against my wrist. That was annoying, but I suddenly realized that this had occurred because, like everyone else, I wore my watch on my left wrist.

The problem was that I am left-handed. So, it dawned on me, there’s a reason watches and rings are worn on the left — so they don’t interfere with our activities, or more accurately with the activities of the roughly 90 per cent of the humanity that is right-handed. Well, you may say, that’s no big deal — just wear your watch on your right arm. Sure, that’s easy enough, but there is still the matter of the watch stem, which is then impossible to use, being on the right side of the watch.

This epiphany led me to examine the myriad ways in which human creation is designed for the convenience of the majority. I, and my lefty brethren, suffer the mildest of handicaps (more of a disadvantage than a handicap), but the impact is real, though usually subtle.

So subtle that I hardly realized it until that inspirational pass. Now I understood why there was usually a blue patch on the side of my left hand after writing a lengthy exam. We write from left to right so for the majority, the hand crosses the pristine part of the page while the southpaws push their hands through the fresh ink. Not only that, but it’s easier to pull a pen than to push it, like my tribe has to do. On the same topic, guess why the rows of desks in classrooms and meeting halls are almost always lined up with the windows to the left. That is no accident, my friend. It’s so the light won’t be blocked by the writer’s hand! Works beautifully for the 90 per cent.

The implications of the majority bias can be more than just mildly annoying. Statistically lefties have had a shorter life expectancy, which is not surprising when you think about how everything from power saws to vehicle controls are designed with the safety and convenience of the majority in mind.

But, it’s not all bad news for southpaws. In sports we sometimes have advantages, mostly due to the fact that right-handers are used to right-handed opponents — and so are we. So, when one of ours goes up against one of theirs, there is a good chance that the righty will be confused when we come at them from the other direction. Hence, in part, the success of left-handed tennis pros. 

Apparently, science hasn’t figured out why a small but relatively consistent proportion of any human population favours the left hand. Maybe there is an advantage to a group when a few members operate in a somewhat different way. It may have been useful for an army to have a few dudes in a line of battle who swung their swords from the other side. 

We lefties have traditionally been looked upon with suspicion and sometimes fear. That is reflected in the language of “handedness.” In French the left is gauche and in Latin sinister. Bad dancers are described as having two left feet. No one really appreciates receiving a left- handed compliment. 

We now know that preference for one hand is related to the dominance of the opposing side of the brain. Until the early 1950s it was usual in our culture to force all children to write with the right hand.

There are scientific studies linking this practice with speech impediments, which points to the neurological origin of the lateral preference. Perhaps because of the strength of the right side of the brain in certain functions, it has been said that lefties are drawn toward some professions, including the law. I have noticed that when you get a few lawyers together the number of us lefties is usually well above 10 per cent. Take a look around the table next time you are at a meeting of several lawyers and see if your observations support or undermine my own.

Despite the disadvantages, southpaws have overcome and risen to great heights. Why, we sinister folk can include in our number the first human to set foot on the moon. In the arts we can claim Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Mozart and McCartney, in politics Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte and six of the last 12 U.S. presidents. (Trump is right-handed, by the way) Gerald Ford was considered awkward and clumsy, but I wonder how much of that was due to his having to navigate a right-handed world. 

I think we maladroit, awkward, inept, unhandy, gauche, unco-ordinated, ham-handed types (all synonyms for “left-handed” according to Merriam Webster’s) may benefit from the experience of being slightly disadvantaged. We may develop a subliminal awareness of what it means to be outside the mainstream, and a lot can be gained from seeing one’s own culture from the outside — or should I say, the “off”side?

Ken Hill is happily retired from just about 40 years of litigation practice in Newmarket, Ont.

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