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Lefties really do it better
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My friend Whitney texted me the other day “are you left handed?”
Her kid is taking his sweet time picking a hand to write with, playing sports lefty but clumsily switching between left and right for the finer motor skills, like writing.
Whitney was picking my brain on my own developmental experience as a lefty, a foggy series of memories like pencil grips that didn’t fit my hand, scissors that I couldn’t get to work, teachers that would subtly (or rudely) imply I was doing things all wrong, and smudged pen ink staining the side of my hand like a messy tattoo.
In a class of 25 kids, statistically 2-3 will be lefties. In the Catholic elementary school I went to, they had (only semi-recently) stopped slapping wrists with rulers, but lefties were still not particularly popular with the sisters, brothers, mothers, and fathers who ran the joint.
The box of scissors in the art room maybe had one or two lefty scissors in it (maybe), and there wasn’t any kind of orientation offered to those of us who felt more natural using our left hand. Lefties spend our first few years socializing with other kids who largely behave differently from us, and children (at least back then, on Long Island) were not enormously supportive of kids who were different. Heck, even the lefty compliments from kids sounded like insults, like skateboarding “goofy.”
My family, on the other hand (pun!), was incredibly supportive of a lefty in their ranks, though nobody else in my immediate family shares the distinction. My uncle and father beamed at my “southpaw” throwing arm and had lefty baseball mitts ready for me from a young age. My mother encouraged me further with plenty of coloring and painting, and before long I began to see left-handedness as a super power that made me special.
A tale as old as time: The thing that made me different was actually the thing that made me awesome. See also: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, like a quarter of Aesop’s fables, most Disney movies, and just about every Animorphs and Goosebumps YA novel. An obvious narrative to find over and over in folk art and pop culture, if you’re looking for it. We’ll get to that more in a bit.
Lefties have been researched to hell, though there isn’t much conclusive evidence as to the why or the how. Genetics play a role, but not in a dominant/recessive, Punnett square kind of way, more like a confused series of probabilities. At the same time it’s not perfectly random either, as a perfect random distribution would see just as many lefties as there are righties, but we’ve already established it’s more like 10%.
If it were an evolutionary disadvantage to be left handed, our kind would have fully washed out of the population by now, but there’s some universal benefit to humanity for a small set of the population to be left handed, though scientists have struggled to fully pin down what that benefit is.
There are some instances where left-handedness is still frowned upon. An orchestra needs everyone’s arms moving in the same direction or you’ll have elbows bumping into each other (I did attempt to play trombone lefty in public school but was forced to learn with my non-dominant hand). Armies generally prefer their grunts be right-handed, because again you don’t want one guy in your ranks doing everything the opposite way as everyone else. Any kind of job that requires a lot of people to act in unison is ill-suited for lefties, and as lefties we generally avoid these environments almost instinctually.
Lefties do get a reputation for being more creative, more sensitive, more artistic, and more mentally ill. Studies do seem to support that to a point, but the reasoning is often obscured by some left brain/right brain hand waving. I think the reason lefties are more creative is simpler than that though. I actually think the whole “benefit to humanity” thing is simpler than that, too.
Aristotle was the first to suggest that listening to a song can create a sense of purification or even purging, a feeling of being emotionally moved through tones and stories. Listen to a sad-sounding song or watch a tragedy and get weepy, listen to a pump up song or a fiery speech and you’ll get wound up. He called this sensation “catharsis.”
Prior to Aristotle, catharsis was a medical term for, quite literally, draining menstrual fluid. A “purification” of the body, in the old confused terms of 2,500 year old Hippocratic medicine (a post for another day, but there’s a helluva story behind the caduceus, that winged snake bird on ambulances that actually stands for hucksterism and commerce, whereas the less flighty Rod of Asclepius is actually the symbol for medicine and healing…sorry, another time). Did I mention the medical term for being a lefty is sinistrality? Establishments, man.
Anyway, back to the emotional catharsis.
If the theory goes that humans (and a number of animals) experience emotional feelings, having a way to knowingly drain those emotions is wholly good for us. It doesn’t even mean that a sad movie needs to make you sad, it might make you happy to see people going through the same grief you’re going through (good grief, if you will). Likewise, a romantic, horned up love song can make you feel sad if you’re recently split or heartbroken.
The point is, catharsis is the relief you feel when your emotional charge is validated and given space to be shared. Catharsis is like a warm blanket for your feelings, like the first chuckle you have after a hard, ugly cry. The moment you unclench your fist after telling your boss to shove it for the last time. When a person you love gives you the hug that you need in the exact moment you needed it.
There’s a latent emotional energy in every person, and artists, musicians, writers, comedians, and performers of all stripes are evoking your emotions through their own expressive catharsis. They felt a thing, turned that feeling into art, and by sharing it with you, the hope is that you too will feel a thing. Catharsis for all!
So why do lefties understand this better than most? Because we learn it so damn young, that’s why. Imagine knowing that you’re observably different than everyone else at the youngest age, and having to fumble your way through a world that isn’t designed for you? The list of objects that righties take for granted is near infinite, but it still gets me on a near daily basis.
Grab a measuring cup with your left hand and put it on the counter as if you’re going to measure something. Notice anything strange? If you place the handle on the left (where it would naturally wind up if you’re holding it in your left hand), you’ll be facing the metric measuring side. I know this, and have forever known this. But I still always wind up putting the measuring cup down, going to measure, realizing I’m looking at the wrong side, spin it around, measure, spin it around again, pick it up with my left hand, and pour.
The whole world is a series of micro challenges for lefties…door knobs are often on the “wrong” side of the door, can openers need to be operated backwards, you’ve got to pick your seat at a restaurant carefully so you aren’t knocking elbows with the righty to your left. Nobody chooses the life of a lefty, and I understand why.
But I also think the first time someone hands us a lefty scissor or puts a lefty baseball glove in our hands, we feel seen and relieved, the emotional frustration of not being able to cut things or throw like everyone else is validated and assuaged. It is the earliest, most basic feeling of catharsis, and lefties understand inherently how good that feels, and how necessary it is. While other kids are told to do as everyone else, lefties know that they cannot, and despite that initial feeling of fear and confusion for being different, we learn to cherish our designation once we find a way to communicate our needs.
And that’s all any creation really is: An attempt at catharsis, either for oneself or for one’s audience. An expression of a need, a frustration, a desire, an idea, in the hopes that others see it and say “Yes, I get that and feel it too.”
Lefties learn that lesson almost immediately upon socializing; we recognize pretty quickly we don’t fit in with everyone else and that’s ok, because catharsis exists if we share our struggle with the world.
We hold some of the greatest and craziest minds among our ranks. 6 of the last 14 presidents were lefty, including Obama, Clinton, HW Bush, and Reagan. Oprah and RBG, Prince William and Neil Armstrong, Lady Gaga and David Bowie. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Osama Bin Laden and Charles Manson.
Oh yeah, Aristotle too.
Lefties are legion, and we’re here to teach you that your weakness is your strength, empathy comes in all shapes and forms, and the world would be deeply boring if everything and everyone was the same. It’s not just ok to think different, it’s critical to our understanding of our world and ourselves. Most importantly, learn to release whatever you think is holding you back, physically, mentally, spiritually, romantically…whatever. You’ll probably find lots of people share your experience, and connecting with them, well…that’s just catharsis.
Until next week!