By: Larry Zhang, Senior Editor
August 13th. For International Left Handers Day, millions gather to celebrate their left-handedness, a trait that is believed to be shared by only 10% of humans. The day to recognize lefties across the world was started by the Left Handers Club, an online organization dedicated to everything left-handed. Some notable left-handers, or “Super Lefties,” as the site calls them, are four out of the last seven U.S. Presidents, including current President Barack Obama himself. The annual event is in its 24th year since its inception, where left vs. right sports matches, lefty exclusive games, and other left-handed activities are held in celebration of left-handedness. But just where did left-handedness come from? And what makes left-handers so unique, after all?
Not surprisingly, left-handers have always been seen as unorthodox, irregular, and in some cases, sinister. In fact, “sinistrality” is the formal name for left-handedness, and comes from the Latin word “sinistra” (on the left). It’s not wonder that since early times, left-handedness has been associated with weakness and evil, prompting many parents to “correct” their children’s left-handedness to right-handedness. In fact, another former President, Ronald Reagan, claimed in one interview that he was born left-handed, but switched under parental pressure. Today, the association with evil is no longer present, though, as left-handers are pretty much indistinguishable from their right-handed counterparts except for, well, their actual left-handedness.
While the science explaining the causes of left-handedness aren’t completely certain, it’s generally understood that the human brain is “cross-wired” so that each hemisphere controls the side of the body opposite to it. For lefties, that means right brain dominance, which is why only lefties are in their right minds! Bad puns aside, psychology has shown that the right side of the brain is primarily responsible for spatial awareness, emotions, perception, creativity, imagination, artistry, and holistic thinking, whereas the left side deals more with mathematics, speech, scientific reasoning, logic, and language. But because left-handers are right brain dominant, many have attributed the disproportionately higher percentage of lefties in music and the arts to their believed greater creativeness, and in sports to their greater abilities at spatial thinking and three-dimensional perception. Whether or not this is the case is up to debate, but it’s safe to say that lefties more than “hold their own” against their right-handed counterparts.
In addition to their unique mental and physical characteristics, lefties have also distinguished themselves in their careers. According to a 1996 study, Harvard Medical School researchers found that attorneys and architects were “either the least right-handed or the most left-handed.” As mentioned above, several U.S. Presidents have left-handedness as one of their claims to fame, including Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Gerald Ford. Outside of the Oval Office, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, and countless other past and present politicians and leaders have been left-handed. Lefties aren’t just disproportionately active on earth, however. According to NASA, at least 20% of Apollo astronauts were or are left-handed.
But who says the most famous lefties are only involved in political endeavors? A staggering amount of legendary thinkers, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, and athletes were also left-handed. Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, more commonly known as Michelangelo, was the famous painter, sculptor, architect, poet, and engineer of the Italian Renaissance, and adorned part of the world-famous Sistine Chapel with his artistic genius. Leonardo da Vinci, perhaps the ultimate Renaissance man, was also a leftie who contributed a stupendous amount to the world, the most famous of which is the Mona Lisa. Jimi Hendrix, arguably one of the greatest, if not the greatest, guitarists in the world was a southpaw too, as seen from his reversed guitar setup. In sports, we can claim Phil Mickelson, Steve Young, Babe Ruth, Bill Russell, Wayne Gretzky, Lionel Messi, Rafael Nadal, Barry Bonds, and Manny Pacquiao. The list goes on and on, but it wouldn’t be complete without Vincent van Gogh, Helen Keller, and Bill Gates, icons who defied convention in their respective generations.
Being left-handed isn’t all a blessing, though, even with the successes of those named above and others. Many lefties across the world know what it feels like to walk into a classroom, or rather, nightmare, of only right-handed desks. Other problems that are more significant than what right-handers give us credit for range from the basics, such as writing/taking notes, high-fiving people, and dealing with right-handed scissors, to the more complex, such as dealing with those not in their “right mind.” Most other objects just don’t apply to us as well, including golf clubs, knives, can openers, and almost everything else intended for strenuous use with one hand. And let’s not forget writing on whiteboards, should we ever have to do that. Southpaws are lucky if they don’t end up erasing everything they’ve wrote.