Left Handedness: The Unsung Struggles of a Major Minority

By Shodipo Ahmed Ajibola / Image Credit: CNN

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With regards to the origin of man, two schools of thoughts come to bear. One could choose to align with the religious school which says God did it all with no questions asked. We could also choose to follow the relatively objective scientific  school conjured by the likes of Darwin and Lamarck which concludes that we are descendants of an ape-like dude called Australopithecus. Wherever you decide to pitch your tent on this issue, frankly, is no concern of mine.

The point here is that right from when we became sensible enough to have organized societies, various divides came up. Gender, strength and height being the most used yardsticks. But there came one which manifested much later—Handedness. Who knows, the human population probably started off with one set of people—The Right-ies.

Handedness refers to the more preferred hand of an individual, usually the better skilled hand. Society made me believe that there exist two groups: Right and Left handers. But I have been around long enough to know that this classification is nothing but a scam; at least in the part of the world where I come from. To tell the truth, there includes just one group and a bunch of ‘un-usuals’ who constitute a minority—A major minority.

At the time of drafting this piece, I did not know what the closed books of history had to say. Sensing history could be a potential ally, I sought her take on the issue. But after six papers and various internet articles, I figured that history already made her stance pretty clear centuries, if not millennia ago; and it was not in my favour.

As bad as it seems today, the situation was much worse then. There seemed to be a unanimous consensus among world cultures and languages as regards to the very definitions of right and left. The word left takes origin from lyft meaning weak. In French, droite translates to straight or right and gauche which depicts left means awkwardness. Middle Eastern languages like Turkish seemed not to differ as sağ (right) means alive while sol (left) translates to illness or death. Throughout history, as Wikipedia put it; left handedness was meant to embody shame, a metaphor to depict misfortune and a representative of fundamental evil. Even my indigenous language, Yoruba, seemed to accentuate this fact as osi (oshi- left) directly signified uselessness or nonsense of some sorts.

I wake up every morning to a world where my kind is less than 10% of the population. Ten percent seems pretty overrated considering the amount of people who make the cross to the other side of the divide on a daily basis by virtue of family and society. I happen to have a belt of sentimental value which I wear on Wednesdays with ‘MY VALENTINO’ aggressively engraved on it. Great! But ‘MY VALENTINO’ only appears readable when the belt is worn in an anti-clockwise manner—which is the right way to go.

On many occasions, I had to go adjust in the restrooms some hours after I left my dormitory.

I am also told that my wrist watch has to be worn on my left hand. This must have been a clever attempt to relieve the right hand– which has been configured by the society– of having to write and engage in daily activities with a heavy piece of metal dangling on the wrist. But here we are, strapping dense time pieces to our wrists. And anytime we question, we are consistently met with the scornful reply:  that’s how the society does it.

A first hand struggle usually occurs in the classroom. Lecture halls in my school are mainly of two types: One with single pieces of furniture in small halls and joint-pieces found in big classrooms and amphitheaters. Each inherently laden with its problems. The former had a combination of desks for both the right and left-handed. At least it did in theory. I have wandered into a class a couple of times to find none of the left desks and had to settle for the right-handed ones. Believe me; you do not want to be in a history class for three straight hours without a platform on which your hand can rest. The latter comes with even bigger issues. Combined desks meant less personal space.

And space is very key especially to a leftie who writes from left to right on a book (as in English and most European languages). To avoid ink smudges and to enhance my handwriting, I usually tilt my books at an angle between 30 and 45 degrees to the horizontal. But this previous sentence, my friend, could be terribly difficult to explain to someone who is not me.

And as such, series of arguments had ensued between classmates because I impinged on their personal space for no direct fault of mine.

Years of consistent practice made me master the art of shaking hands. I must say though that it took some time not to raise my left hand up when someone’s hand was stretched towards mine. In fact, there usually was a split-second decision making before eventually motioning my right hand.

Showcasing strength through arm wrestling was also grossly impeded by my choice of hand. My right hand, being relatively weaker than my left, was what my friends preferred. I endured a streak of losses even from those I could have pinned down effortlessly with my active hand. On the bright side though, this activity made me develop almost equal strength on my right hand. It seems fair to say that I have, over the years, turned out to be an ambidextrous arm-wrestler.

Inspiration to pencil down this piece rained upon me when I stumbled upon a makeshift fact book which stated in shouty capitals: LEFT HANDED PEOPLE LIVE AVERAGELY 8 YEARS LESS THAN THEIR RIGHT COUNTERPARTS. What nonsense! A voice inside of me barked. I understand that I might be taking this issue more personally than I should. But with what choice do you leave a man who comes from a country where the life expectancy is a good number of years below fifty-five?

There comes some consolation with being left handed or left-legged though. They say we excel in sports. Rafael Nadal, Arjen Robben and Lionel Messi are veritable examples. Some also indicate a possibility of us having an increased cerebral activity which translates to higher intelligence; the likes of Albert Einstein, Sir Newton and my old friend Leonardo Da Vinci.  These sayings, I will not verify; for I might suffer the same fate as I did with history some paragraphs before.

Most southpaws out there, like me, might not have the talent of tearing through football team’s defenses; neither may we be blessed with the mind to invent Calculus. We also might not be that fortunate to have a couple of Wimbledon wins to our respective names or paint a till-date masterpiece—The Mona Lisa. But make no mistake, we are heroes; heroes in our own rights. And we demand to be treated as such. Because in addition to confronting various personal obstacles, each and every one of us has had a fair share of the struggles imposed by humanity and the right society. No other definition of heroism, in my opinion, comes close to this.

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