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FEELING ‘LEFT’ OUT?

Throughout history, people have been persecuted for almost any reason one can think of, race, religion, wealth, sexuality, height, age, intelligence and more. However, there is one group that has been stigmatized throughout time, for seemingly little to no particular reason.


‘Lefties’ or ‘left-handers’ are a strange breed, making up roughly 10% of the population across all colors and creeds. Whilst countries vary in their rates of lefties, this is most likely due to the tolerance the state shows towards them. In many Asian countries, rates hover around 2-3%, but these tend to be countries where children are forced to use their less dominant hand when discovered.


Whilst lefties used to have significantly shorter life expectancies (several reasons— think soldiers having a gun that recoils into the heart, or heavy machinery made with right handed people in mind) there are still areas where they suffer. Apart from not being good at using scissors, they are more prone to Schizophrenia and breast cancer. The English language, is arguably stacked against them also. Phrases like ‘right-hand man’ and ‘two-left feet’ insinuate the right is best, and left is, well, not. The art of writing in itself is also stacked against them, with all but the Arabic languages leading to lefties constantly fighting with smudges, or elbowing their neighbour. Even the word ‘sinister’ derives from the later word ‘sinistra’, meaning left. With these biases ingrained into our language and lifestyle (have you ever seen a left handed pencil sharpener or tin opener?) its hard not to feel sorry for left handed members of our species.


It’s not all downside however, as lefties are less likely to have Parkinson's disease and far more likely to be professional tennis players. Even the great Raphael Nadal was encouraged from a young age to ignore his right hand and use his left, in order to disrupt opponents (right handed players spend 90% of their matches against each other, whereas a left handed player only does this 10% of the time.) Regardless of the pros and cons, new research suggests "for the first time in humans, we have been able to establish that these handedness-associated cytoskeletal differences are actually visible in the brain," Prof Douaud, who is herself left handed, said. The conclusions are that handedness is 25% genetic and 75% down to the environment.


Whilst there is still work to be done and there hasn’t been many large sample studies, progress can be seen. The gap in life expectancy has narrowed and culturally we tend not to publicly shame them, as was the case historically. In some parts of Scotland, it is considered bad luck to meet a left-handed person at the start of a journey. In Ghana, pointing, gesturing, giving or receiving items with the left hand is considered taboo or rude and people will strain in order to avoid it.


Despite the world being more accommodating, it is still a long way off from fair treatment. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlaws discrimination based on ’race, sex, language, or religion’. Perhaps one day, we can add ‘handedness’ to the list and the world will be a fair place for all (every other form of discrimination notwithstanding).

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