Reports claim that 8 to 15 percent of the world’s population is left-handed. Most agree that the percentage of lefties has been growing in recent times, possibly due to the stigma of being left-handed being lessened in recent generations. There is certainly evidence that left-handedness may be increasing (consider that five out of the last seven U.S. presidents have been left-handed). Is being left-handed a blessing or a curse?
Most people would agree that being left-handed presents some challenges in life but nothing compared to history when being a lefty was considered sinful, awkward or even dirty. Today, that stigma is gone but not the challenges in modern life. Most products are made for right-handed people as the majority of the population is still right-handed. I am a southpaw and many of my friends are often surprised to learn I am a lefty, because I do most things right-handed, most notably golf. Why I swing a golf club right-handed is beyond me but I know I am not alone.
The lefty stigma was only recently removed. For centuries, parents would notice a toddler using his or her left hand and then go through extraordinary efforts to turn their child to being right-handed. It is rumored Ronald Reagan was a natural lefty but his parents pushed him to be right-handed, which ultimately made him ambidextrous. The stigma of a lefty is gone-how else could so many left-handed U.S. presidents get elected? In the history of mankind, lefties are at a unique time in history.
Most righties think we look funny writing and that’s about the end of it for them. But there are so many little everyday things that we go through being a lefty in life that even us southpaw’s just get over it and move on. Even with simple things in life, such as sitting in a restaurant booth, the right-handed world does not really understand our left world. The seat location with no one to our left is coveted by the lefty. While the right-handed and lefty will bump elbows, it is typically the lefty that is trained to go to extra efforts to hold the elbow in.
Lefties face lots of little challenges and must learn to overcome them. Most products are designed for the right-handed person. Shooting an automatic rifle is typically an uncomfortable experience for the lefty. The shell casings are ejected out the right side of the weapon and will often land on the bent elbow of the left-handed shooter. The freshly ejected casings are hot and it is not uncommon to hear a lefty scream “ouch” every so often when shooting. Scissors are also formed for right-handed people and the sharp contour edge formed to the right hand tends to cut into the left hand. Many everyday tasks that we all take for granted are a challenge for the lefty.
Being a plasterer and being left-handed is a good example of the “blessing and a curse” scenario. The curse was applying textures in an opposite direction created aesthetic differences. The blessing was I had to become multi-directional. In plastering, crews traditionally work left to right. Some crews are adamant that all plaster work must be done from left to right-this forces the left-handed plasterer to work backwards.
When I was an apprentice, a seasoned, right-handed journeyman plasterer noted I was fortunate to be left-handed as I would be forced to become multi-directional. He said that every journeyman plasterer should be able to work in either direction with proficiency and equal quality, and I would be a more versatile plasterer for it. He turned a negative to a positive and was correct: I had to be able to work with the righties. While it made me a multi-directional production plasterer, being left-handed did not help me become a better mechanic with trowel skills. Many of my right-handed partners were superior but it did make me valuable as a multi-directional plasterer. It did not matter to me which direction we went. I often wondered if the “lefty handicap” actually helped me but how about other professions?
When I was in college taking architecture classes, we did not have computers and everything was drawn with pencil on vellum paper. You were graded on neatness and cleanliness of your drawings. I always scored low, no matter how hard I tried-my left hand would smear the print I just put down. I felt I had to work harder in other areas to overcome the unavoidable lower scores I would inevitably receive in “neatness.”
There are lots of little things in life that lefties just find a way to overcome. Could this explain why so many U.S. presidents are left-handed or why one out four Apollo astronauts are left-handed? Is it a coincidence or is the little extra challenge of being left-handed just good training for the challenges of life? I do not know but it is food for thought.