Sunday, June 24, 2012

Left Handed Week

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            Did you know that the word “sinister” originally meant left-handed? After centuries of negative association with left-handedness, it came to be associated with evil. Most people are familiar with the term ambidextrous, two right hands, but few have heard of ambisinistrous. This means two left hands, or clumsy or unskilled on both sides. I came across this word with my word of the day app, and it really stuck with me. I have always been fascinated with the fact that my dad writes with his right hand and draws with his left. It made me wonder how long it would take somebody to truly become dual-handed
Every day of my left-handed week, I started frustrated. It wasn’t because of something that was right-handed exclusive like a rifle or scissors, but the lip on my yogurt container. The frustration came purely from inexperience and my wanting of, for lack of a better work, dexterity. Every day, I struggled to get that last bit of dairy goodness that lies on the bottom of the container and under the lip. I scraped away, only to feel as if I wasted some yogurt as I threw it in the recycle bin. It made me wonder what other trials lefties go through.
Mike Pottorff is in his early sixties, but he has never felt stigmatized due to his left-handedness. He has never been forced to do anything with his right hand in school or otherwise. Those things that he has learned to do with his right hand only came out of convenience.
“As a kid, there were only right-handed baseball gloves around, so I learned how to throw with my right arm,” he told me. When he grew up, Mike became a carpenter and general handy man. In my research, I found that a lot of claims that tools are difficult for left-handed people to use. Mike told me that this wasn’t really the case. “It might be safer to use a skill saw right-handed, but it is easier to see the blade when you use it left-handed.” While he is more conscious of where he sits when he is eating out because he doesn’t want to fight for elbow room, Mike feels as if he is dual-handed. He doesn’t claim to be ambidextrous, but he says that he can do much more with his right hand than right-handed people can do with their left.
It goes beyond the use of tools and accidentally erasing what was written on a chalkboard or dry erase board. There are more sinister examples ingrained in our language. When something has been done correctly, it was done the right way. By juxtaposition, that would suppose that something done improperly was done the left way. In French, the word for left is gauche. This is used in English as improper, uncouth, inappropriate, or clumsy.
On day one, I completely forgot to use my left hand until about 10 p.m. I was needed a reminder. That day counted as day zero. I figured that I would need a bracelet or wrist band on my right hand so that I would notice it every time that I started to write or do anything that I could use my left hand for. Then I remembered that my son, Tate had a few bracelets in his room.                                
This worked out well because I wanted it be snug; I didn’t want to grow accustomed to it by the end of the week. During this time, my daughter, Emery became fixated with the wristband. She kept asking me if she could wear it, but I knew that she only wanted it because she couldn’t have it. I told her that when the week was over, that she could wear the wristband. Every day she would ask me how many more days until she got to wear the thing. When it was her turn, she didn’t care anymore.
On the real day one, it didn’t take long to realize how little people actually write. Computers and, to an extent, cell phones have replaced the written word. I came to the conclusion that I needed to make it a complete left-handed week. This meant opening bottles, jars, and doors alike with my weaker hand. Being left-handed was suddenly much more difficult than I had anticipated. At work, every computer was equipped with a sliding base for a keyboard to sit on. Built in this was a mouse pad on the right side. I wasn’t able to use my left hand for the mouse without moving around the shared work station, which I wasn’t willing to do.
Surprisingly, the left-handed week was an activity that Leigha was against from the day that I thought of it. The two of us have spent most of our working lives in management positions, and it was difficult for her to imaging me doing my job efficiently and productively if I was left-handed. She told me that if one of her employees was doing it, she would be irritated. I told her that I wouldn’t draw attention to the fact that I was doing everything left-handed and, if necessary, I would switch back if it was affecting my work too much.
That is exactly what happened on day three. I work in an ER. One of my job duties is to go into patient’s rooms and register them. What this entails is printing out a sheet with all of their information and verifying it with them. If any of that information has changed, or they are a new patient, I write down the new information by hand. Sometimes these patients are in pain or critical condition and it isn’t fair for anybody to prolong the process. Day three happened to be an especially busy day that I encountered a lot of these patients. I felt that it was better to switch back to my right hand for the remainder of my shift.
On day four, I went on my previously posted police ride along. At the beginning of the night, I tried to take notes as I sat in the passenger seat. I found that it was difficult not only because I was writing with my weaker hand, but because it is difficult to write while in a moving vehicle. I opted to take mental notes instead.
On day six, I noticed that things weren’t as burdensome to do left-handedly. Except getting the last bit of yogurt. As it turns out, a large portion of people that are right-handed and have an accident that requires them to use their left hand for an extended period of time, continue to use their left hand after they are healed. I imagined myself going through life doing everything right-handed except eating my yogurt. Then I started to wonder if there was anything that was beneficial to be left-handed. Initially, I thought of sports. The term “southpaw” is one of the most common terms for a left-handed athlete. I thought that its origin was pretty interesting. Most baseball diamonds have been built so that the afternoon sun is not shining in the pitcher’s face. Therefore as he is standing on the pitcher’s mound, facing east, his left hand is on the south. It is generally accepted that left-handed pitchers have an advantage over right-handed batters.
            Another interesting tidbit that I came across was that five of the last seven Presidents were left-handed, with George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter being the exceptions. Even if there is no connection between handedness and politics, it can give hope to that young kid struggling with their left-sided proclivities. On August 13th, they can celebrate National Left-Handed Day by putting on a shirt that says something like, “Once You Go Left, You’ll Never Be Right” and dream about their future presidency.
Are you left-handed and were forced to learn how to do something with your right hand? Can anybody think of something that might be advantageous to be left-handed?


  1. Hate to be the one to break it to you, but your attempts at strengthening your left-handed abilities -may- be a bit of a time waster :-/. The reason why is that right-handedness is determined by a gene. So chances are, if you're right-handed it's because it's in your DNA. Those who don't have the gene can end up being right or left handed, but most find that they can do things with both their hands. Being that there is still a constant difficutly in using your left hand for what may seem like even simple tasks it sounds like you're genetically right-handed.

    I'm a southpaw, but much like your example of Mike, I do many things right-handed, and actually prefer to do these things that way. I fish, swing a baseball bat, and of course use the computer mouse as right-handed people do. My right hand and arm is actually stronger than my left when it comes to some things like this.

    Good luck!

    1. While it might be a bit of a time waster to change my right-handed disposition, it is not a waste to increase the capabilities of my left. As your example shows, Even if you are pre-disposed to do things with one hand, you can easily learn to do them with the other.


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