June 12, 2014

Left in a Right World

The Social Work Degree Center (SWDC) has published an infographic called Left in a Right World, which considers the challenges of being left-handed in a world dominated by righties.

This is a readable piece with information gathered from a number of interesting sources.

There are some inaccuracies included, which merit correction:
  • Gear shifts and other automobile controls on the right: This is true only in countries where people drive on the right side of the road. In countries where they drive on the left, the driver sits on the right and controls are on the left. In both situations, lefties and righties seem to adapt equally well.

  • Doorknobs on the right: There are just as many doorknobs on the left as on the right. If you happen to find a doorknob on the right, you can stand on the other side of the door and find one on the left.

  • Smeared ink when writing: This is a problem only for those who have been taught incorrect writing by ignorant right-handers. See my page on how to write left-handed.

  • Computer mouse on the right: This isn't normally built in to the computer. I have mine on the left. With a Mac, left vs. right isn't an issue. With a PC, it's easy to switch the mouse buttons through the control panel. Sadly, it's true that some schools and libraries have short mouse cords attached to the desk in such a way as to prevent lefties from using the computer. This is completely unnecessary and should be illegal.

  • Awkward handshakes: Not really. Simple actions that require little or no skill are very easy for both lefties and righties to learn and perform automatically with either hand.

  • Shirt pockets on the left: True, but is this really a challenge?

  • Zippers: Without any explanation, I'm not sure what the problem is supposed to be. All my zippers run down the middle of the track and can be operated with either hand.

The article touches on many of the usual points - linguistic prejudice, discriminatory technology, the number of left-handed U.S. presidents, the advantages of lefties in sports, the potential for greater creativity.

Something I hadn't seen before is the suggestion of a possible correlation between left-handedness and the homicide rate in primitive cultures. Are righties killing lefties out of superstitious prejudice? Are angry lefties committing murder in disproportionate numbers? We don't know. As my old statistics professor would say, correlation does not imply causation, and it is fairly easy to come up with some very odd correlations between unrelated things.

Also mentioned are some of the possible neurological and genetic explanations for handedness. Of particular interest is the "right shift" theory, which explains why two right-handed parents can have left-handed children and why some people are not locked into the dominant hand model.

At the start, SWDC states, "At a steady 10% of the world's population, it's a mystery why left-handedness has not 'died out' from the gene pool altogether." However, the same could be said of homosexuals (10-15%), natural redheads (1-3%), and people with perfect pitch (less than 1%). Fortunately, people are not all alike. A variety of traits helps to keep the gene pool healthy (and interesting).

As for our ongoing fascination with the pros and cons of handedness, perhaps the New York Times had it right when it announced that lefties aren't all that special. Like everyone else, we are just being ourselves, doing the best we can with the resources we have available.


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