In Chapter 2 of The Power of Your Other Hand, entitled “The Upper Hand and the Other Hand,” I discuss the historical prejudice against the left and everything associated with it. This prejudice of the majority (“righties”) against the minority (“lefties”) runs throughout history. In fact every language, except Hopi and Classical Chinese, have words for left that also mean clumsy, handicapped, weak, paralyzed, left-over, stupid, crooked, malicious, deceitful, evil, etc. You get the idea. Gauche means left in French, but English-speaking folks use it as a put-down. Gawky, meaning awkward, even looks like a mispronunciation of the word gauche. In Italian, sinistra means left. Change a letter or two and it becomes sinister in English. Mancini, another Italian word for left, is also used to mean maimed, defective, stupid.
The acquisition of literacy all over the world has been accompanied by the mandate that “the right hand is the correct hand for writing.” That was true in our American schools at one time, but over the years things have changed. Generally, lefties are allowed to be lefties. What happens at home is another matter. Some parents might still be imposing right-handedness, especially if they came here from a culture that is prejudiced again the left hand.
Of course technology has brought ambidexterity to writing. We all “write” with both hands — on computer keyboards. “Thumb writing” for texting is another whole topic I won’t go into, but notice that people do use both thumbs.
I began introducing people to their unschooled, non-writing hand in 1974 when I was in graduate school researching and developing my methods. Over the years I have met fewer and fewer people who are “switch-overs” (lefties forced to become right-handed for writing and drawing). Now they are usually over 70 and went to school when kids got ridiculed, slapped, or punished in some way for the audacity of writing with their natural (left) hand. There is a section in The Power of Your Other Hand on switchovers and the emotional damage this practice caused. Based on my research into more recent science on the physiology of trauma, I now believe being forcibly switched over caused severe neurological damage as well.
While dining with a man from India recently, I was told that children there must do their school work with their right hands. Left-handedness is not acceptable when it comes to writing or drawing. I’ve heard this about a lot of other countries as well, especially in Asia and the Middle East. Over the years, students and workshop attendees have told me they were made fun of, beaten, given a dunce hat to wear, had their left hand tied to the desk chair, and in the worst case, one had the left hand broken by a teacher. This happened in Pearl Harbor in a military school during WW2. The boy, now a man, held his hand out to show me the scars. The teacher slammed his hand with a wooden 2 x 4 because he persisted in writing with his left hand. I gasped! But he then grinned and told me the rest of the story. Fortunately, when this military family returned to the US mainland, his new teacher allowed him to use his natural hand. He actually chuckled while telling me that he had maintained his left-handedness for writing throughout his life in spite of this early injury to body and soul.
If you think this topic of the prejudice against the left hand is a new one, think again. Benjamin Franklin, statesman, philosopher, author and inventor was a proponent of education for both hands. As a believer in training for ambidexterity, including writing with both hands, here’s a letter he penned, that appears in Chapter 2 of The Power of You Other Hand. It was written on behalf of his “other hand.”
A Petition To Those Who Have The Superintendency of Education
I address myself to all the friends of youth, and conjure them to direct their compassionate regard to my unhappy fate, in order to remove the prejudices of which I am the victim. There are twin sisters of us; and the eyes of man do not more resemble, nor are capable of being on better terms with each other than my sister and myself, were it not for the partiality of our parents, who made the most injurious distinction between us.
Must not the regret of our parents be excessive, at having placed so great a difference between sisters who are so perfectly equal? Alas! We must perish from distress; for it would not be in my power even to scrawl a suppliant petition for relief…
Condescend, sir, to make my parents sensible of the injustice of an exclusive tenderness, and of the necessity of distributing their care and affection among all their children equally. I am, with profound respect, Sirs,
Your obedient servant,
THE LEFT HAND