Firstly, let me wish all left handed people a belated Happy International Left Handers Day for last August 13th!
Having a small number of left handed friends has made me aware of how challenging it is for them to do life in a right handed world. But while they make up only about 5 – 10% of the whole human population, they are in good company, sharing this characteristic with a huge number of other significant things in the world.
The Language of Handedness
Society has not always been kind to you lefties. Even our English language discriminates: "right" means "correct" or "proper" whereas "left" harks back to the Latin "sinister" or "unlucky", as does the Anglo-Saxon word "lyft" which means "broken" or "weak". So the judgements are stacked against lefties.
Even the English word "dexterity", which derives from the Latin word for "right", relates to manual skill and was used to denote right handedness. Hence the term "ambidextrous" which meant that you could use either hand equally effectively. Leonardo da Vinci, among some other famous people, was reputed to be truly ambidextrous.
Mixing it up
Handedness is not necessarily exclusive. There are many people who may write left handed but swing a bat or a tennis racquet right handed. Or, like me when I broke my right arm, learn to write with my left hand.
Then there are the inexplicable exceptions to the rule. My left handed friend Anne was, according to her mother, shaping up to be a strong right hander. She had a serious accident when she was about 4 years old, which resulted in a subdural hematoma. After the crisis was over and she recovered, Anne was definitely left handed.
In our right handed world, some things may be adaptable: musical instruments are "right handed" but it is possible for instruments like guitars to be strung left handedly. In the same way some tools, such as scissors, may be constructed for left hand use. But because these tools are rare most lefties have learnt to compensate using their right hand.
In fact even in the early 20th century many lefties were forced to write with their right hand, regardless of how awkward and wrong and difficult it was. Another friend, Jill, remembers being in a Year 4 class with seven other left handers. By the end of that year, all but her were writing with their right hands. Apparently they thought she was unteachable!
Being left handed would be an advantage for writing those languages that are written right-to-left such as Arabic or Hebrew, or for Chinese and Japanese calligraphy, but there is still a predominance of right handedness in the populations.
Right Brain/Left Brain Confusion
Handedness has nothing to do with being left or right brained. The popular concept of right brain/left brain is an over simplification anyway that does not do justice to the complexity of the human brain. Simply put, in this model strong right brain people are creative and strong left brain people are analytical. Elements of all characteristics actually exist in both sides of the brain and the cooperation of both hemispheres of the brain is necessary.
Remember that the left hemisphere of the brain controls the right side of the body and vice versa via the corpus callosum (effectively a bridge between the two hemispheres). So while the motor control of right handed people is largely determined by the left side of the brain, this does not make them more analytical or logical. Both my left handed friends are quite analytical in their approach to life.
World of Nature
An interesting picture emerges as we look at the natural world. Many natural phenomena are left handed, or a relatively equal mixture of both. The proportion of right and left handedness in the animal kingdom appears to be roughly equal. One unexpected discovery was that kangaroos and wallabies have a left handed preference for most ordinary activities involving fine manipulation, but a right handed preference for activities involving physical strength.
The Fibonacci sequence is a familiar spiral pattern in the seeds arrangements of, for example, sunflowers, pine cones and pineapples. Both left and right handed spirals exist, often occurring simultaneously in the same plant. This pattern permits the maximum number of seeds distributed uniformly with no crowding and no empty spaces – ultra efficiency.
World of Chemistry
Even chemicals exhibit a form of handedness in relation to their molecular structure. This arises from the angles created when chemical bonds form between atoms, creating mirror images of molecules in the same way that the right hand is a mirror image of the left hand.
Our bodies are made up of L-amino acids (left handed) and D-sugars (right handed). Check your health food supplements: I expect you'll find that you have, for example, L-Glutamine. There are some left handed sugars that taste as sweet as the usual sugar, but because they cannot be metabolized by the body they won't make you fat and are therefore useful as "artificial" sweeteners.
The sugars that contribute to the structure of DNA and RNA are right handed. Due to this, DNA molecules form a right handed spiral or helix.
Is God Right Handed?
According to the Bible, we humans are made in the image of God (Genesis Chapter 1 verse 27). In the light of the above, can we speculate that God is right handed, left handed or ambidextrous, considering how his creation exhibits elements of each?
Predominantly, the references to God's handedness in the Bible talk about God using his right hand. Throughout the Psalms his right hand confers majesty, power, shatters the enemy, saves and sustains people. His right hand is filled with righteousness, giving pleasure.
One of the best verses describes a hug from God with both hands "His left hand is under my head and his right hand embraces me" Song of Songs Chapter 2 verse 6.
Regardless of whether God is right or left handed, when the Bible refers to left-handed people, it speaks of left-handedness as an advantage, not a weakness. Ehud, a judge of Israel and a mighty warrior, was left-handed (Judges 3:15-21). Judges 20:16 mentions 700 left-handed warriors who could "sling a stone at a hair and not miss." First Chronicles 12:2 seems to reference bowmen who were ambidextrous.
The Importance of Being Right
Back to my friend Jill, who also happens to have Huntington's disease, an inherited disorder that results in the death of brain cells. She was recently invited to participate in some research conducted by a university into this condition.
On arrival, Jill had to fill in a long questionnaire. When the questionnaire had been processed, she was told that she could not take part in the tests. Imagine her surprise when she was told it was because she was left handed! They needed to eliminate as many variables as they could, and left handedness was a variable they couldn't afford to have in their tests.
Ultimately, though, it doesn't matter! God has created an amazing world with well established laws of chemistry and physics that make things work. While we are made in his image, that does not mean we display all his attributes in our lives, or even that he is a reflection of us. But it is an interesting exercise to explore the patterns and consistencies throughout his creation.
Giljov et al., Parallel Emergence of True Handedness in the Evolution of Marsupials and Placentals, Current Biology(2015), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2015.05.043
Aira Chilcott B.Sc (Hons), M. Contemp Sci, Cert IV in Christian Ministry and Theology, Cert IV in Training and Evaluation, Grad Dip Ed., began her working life at the John Curtin School of Medical Research, investigating characteristics of cancer cells. Turning to teaching in the Christian school system provided opportunities to learn theology, more science, mission trips and explore the outdoors through bushwalking and other exploits. Now retired, Aira is a panelist for Young Writers and volunteers at a nature park. Aira is married to Bill and they have three adult sons.
Aira Chilcott's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/aira-chilcott.html