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Sunday, 14 August 2016

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Left is right

Are you left-handed? Then you know how difficult it is for you to live in a mainly right-handed world which is clearly oriented towards right handed people. I am right handed myself, but having many relatives and friends who are left-handed, I can imagine the agony they go through when doing even simple tasks such as using a pair of scissors or even a spiral bound notebook which are designed for right-handed use.

Being left-handed is totally natural, though left-handers (also called Southpaws) were thought of as evil in ancient cultures. This notion stemmed particular due to the use of the left hand for hygienic functions in most Oriental societies. Hence, there was a belief that the left hand was 'dirty' while the right hand was pure. In many European languages including English, the word for the direction 'right' also means 'correct' or 'proper'. Until fairly recently, parents were known to 'correct' left handed children to use their right hand forcibly in many cultures.

Modern

Today, this stigma is no longer prevalent in most societies, but being left handed has its fair share of pitfalls even in the modern society. Around 13 percent of the seven billion people on Earth are left handers and a few among them are ambidextrous (meaning they can use both hands for any task equally well, but will still use the dominant hand for everyday tasks). In case you thought left handers exist only among humans, many primates and mammals also exhibit this trait.

With International Days dedicated to many events and people proliferating, the 'Lefties' too have got their own day on the calendar - August 13. Yesterday the world marked the International Left Handers Day, with activities and ceremonies in a number of countries. If you are left-handed, it is a chance to tell your family and friends how proud you are of being left-handed, and also raise awareness of the everyday issues that Lefties face while living in a world designed for right-handers.

No-one has come up with a definitive reason for why some people are left-handed, but it is thought to be genetic - it definitely runs in families. Researchers have recently located a gene they believe "makes it possible to have a left-handed child," so if you have that gene, one or more of your children may be left-handed, whereas without it, you will only have right-handers. The good news is that if you are left-handed yourself, you have that gene and will pass it on through the generations. But more research is needed in this area.

Complex

Quite apart from the genetic factor, the incredibly complex way in which the brain works makes one left or right handed. The brain is 'cross-wired' so that the left hemisphere controls the right handed side of the body and vice-versa and hand dominance is connected with brain dominance on the opposite side - hence the witty saying that 'only left-handers are in their right minds'.

This brain dominance makes left-handers more likely than right handers to be creative and visual thinkers. This is supported by higher percentages of left-handers than normal in certain jobs and professions - music (Jimi Hendrix, anyone?) and the arts, media in general. Left-handers are also generally said to be better at three-dimensional perception and thinking, leading, for example, to more left-handed architects than normal. Left-handers are also usually good at most ball sports and activities involving hand-eye co-ordination. The common view that left-handers are clumsy and awkward is not down to their natural abilities, but being forced to use right-handed tools and machinery which is completely back-to-front for them. However, now there are a number of companies which specialize in making tools especially for left-handed use and their goods can be ordered online.

Throughout history, some of the most creative individuals the world has seen have been Lefties. From Barack Obama to Michelangelo, history is replete with examples of famous left-handed individuals who have a made a difference. Albert Einstein, who gave us the Theory of Relativity and Bill Gates of Microsoft are left-handed. There are also famous people including Bob Dole and Thomas Carlyle who have been forced to use the left hand due to injury or amputation of the right hand and who have gone on to become 'ambassadors' for left-handed people. In fact, learning to use the left hand is an excruciatingly difficult activity for most right handed people, but they eventually adapt.

Advantages

Despite the obvious disadvantages, there certain advantages of being a Leftie - on a standard QWERTY keyboard there are about 3,400 words that can be typed solely with the left hand, compared to about 450 words typed solely with the right hand. They will also have an easier time writing in Hebrew and Arabic languages, which are written from right to left. According to research, one of the advantages of being left-handed is that it forces your brain to think more quickly with the ability to use both sides of the brain. Thus, Lefties may find it easier to multi-task and deal with a large, sometimes unorganized stream of information. Not surprisingly, left handers seem to make up a disproportionately large part of those who are highly intelligent. In fact, 20 percent of all Mensa members are left-handed. Bizarrely, one of the benefits of being left handed is being able to adjust more easily to see the world around you when you are underwater.

A study published in the journal 'Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition' in 2005 showed that left-handed people are less prone to arthritis, a joint disorder that comes with inflammation and pain.

Research has also shown that university students are more likely to succeed in visually-based, as opposed to language-based, subjects when they are left handed. It is also said that Lefties make for better drivers in both Left Hand Drive and Right hand Drive countries, though the reasons for this are unclear.

Left handed sports men and women are also known to be better performers - in cricket, some of the greatest batsmen have been Lefties, including Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara, Brian Lara, Sir Garfield Sobers, S. Ganguly, Allan Border, Adam Gilchrist and David Gower. This phenomenon has been documented in several other sports including baseball, which is somewhat similar to cricket.

As the above examples show, if you are a Leftie, you are in exalted company. Make the best of being a Leftie, even if you have to swim against the tide in a predominantly right-handed world. The world may not be fair to you, but you can show the world how unique you are.

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