Left-hand dominance: A curse or a blessing

Published 6:01 am Saturday, August 11, 2018

Left-hand dominance. Are you among American who face this challenge? Is this the result of the environment, a roll of the dice, genetics, some combination or factors we don’t yet understand?

If you have a toddler who is showing preference for his/her left hand, should you force that toddler to use his/her right hand? Are there benefits, for example, in particular sports and positions played in those sports, to being left-hand dominant? Hove you noticed whether your cat or dog has a hand (paw) preference? Have you ever been given a left-handed compliment?

My father was left-handed and spent the last 17 years of his work life as a tool-and-die setter at the Mather Spring Company on Detroit Avenue in Toledo, Ohio. The company was founded in 1911, and I feel certain that the engineers who designed the manufacturing equipment paid no attention to future employees with left-hand dominance. That gene for left-hand dominance must be in my family as I can readily name some close family members who inherited that gene: Bridget, Cale, Brandi, and Cohl. My husband joins the list as do presidents Clinton, Obama, and Bush. And then we have Einstein and other well-known persons such as Oprah.

Email newsletter signup

Aug. 13 is International Left-Handers Day. Why not use this as a day to understand how left-hand dominant Americans navigate the world? Use your left hand to get in the shower, open cabinets, start your car, enter buildings, and do all those tasks that you normally do each day with your right hand. Your response might be, “Oh, they can accommodate their left-hand dominance. We all make adjustments.” What if your world were suddenly reversed and you entered a planet designed for the population with left-hand dominance?

I’m right-handed, and two decades plus ago, I severed three fingers on my right hand. I had to wear a strange contraption for months from elbow past finger tips and respond to questions from strangers, “What in the world happened to your hand? Does it hurt?” More importantly, I was forced to use my left hand and see the world from the perspective of all those lefties out there.

Southpaw and mailman Michael Hutton’s birthday is on August 13, and retired teacher Barbara Swearinger is proud to be a member of this elite group and acknowledges they are being recognized. Former college athlete Hailey Betiko reports, “I’m not a leftie, but I always wished I was, the reason being lefties are harder to guard in basketball.”

Engineer Michelle Cisco Collett says, “I went totally left-handed even though my teacher tried to force me to use my right hand.” Jess Besecker, college graduate in biology, almost failed kindergarten “because I couldn’t use scissors and use pre-bound notebooks” which leftie and occupational therapist Lucy Lynn Parker also found troublesome. As one of ten children, Denise Bower was the only leftie in the group and was almost diagnosed as dyslectic when she used her dominant left hand. She wonders if her artistic ability is connected in some way to her left-hand dominance.

Author Kelly Metz reports on her grandpa who was forced to use his right hand, but turned that and his dominant left handedness “to his advantage when building things.” She indicates, “He’d hammer or saw until one hand got tired and then switch off without missing a beat.”

Art professor Stephen Neihaus likes to tell his students about Leonardo da Vinci: “ He was a leftie. Wrote his notebooks from right to left. It was a big deal in those days, The Italian word for left is sinestra which means sinister. Left handers were thought to have been touched by the devil.”

The most complicated response to my inquiry about left-handedness came from novelist John Crusey: “I heard on NPR that all left-handers’ brains are unique, but the brains of right-handers are cookie cutter. I’ve also always heard that a left-hander has a better chance of recovering from a stroke. My story might verify that. I’m a leftie, and 20 years ago I suffered a brain injury due to exposure over a long period of time to low levels of carbon monoxide. I just woke up one morning with all the symptoms of advanced Parkinson’s disease. The doctors prescribed pills which kept me asleep most of the time. Parkinson’s is a progressive disease, and I realized I was getting better, so this couldn’t be Parkinson’s. For the next five or six years I continued to improve until I regained 85% of what I had lost. No doctor could explain why I was getting better. Would I have gotten better if I wasn’t left-handed? Who knows?”

There are studies on dominant hands as researchers attempt to find solid reasons for left-hand dominance by examining among other things the impact of prenatal development, genomes, the environment, ultrasound screenings, birth weight, and gender. Researchers, however, cannot even agree on the percentage of persons with left-handed dominance.

My recommendation: Be happy to have hands and use them to create a world that pleases you and those whom you love.

Dr. Vivian Blevins is a Harlan County native. She has taught undergraduate and graduate students as well as prison inmates, and now teaches communication and American literature classes at Edison State Community College in Ohio. Reach her at vbblevins@woh.rr.com.