What Left-Handedness Can Teach Us

When I was a child, at first I wrote ambidextrously, which was a distinct advantage. Giving out punishments to write sentences 100 times was exceptionally normal, so my ability in first grade to change from hand-to-hand was a distinct advantage. By the end of first grade, however, my left hand was dominant; I was left-handed like my mother and maternal grandfather.

At that time, statistics stated that approximately 8 to 10% of the population was left-handed. For my grandfather’s generation, it was less than 5%. He loved to tell stories of how my mother’s first grade teacher attempted to force my mother to write with her right hand, so he charged in there and let the teacher know that her biases were not acceptable. That was a pretty impressive stand for a man who had a 7th grade education.

While some studies find that approximately 10% of the population continues to be left-handed, other studies show that the population of left-handed people is rising. Some believe that the reason for the increase is that fewer people are forced to be right-handed, although there are still students today who are being forced to write with the right hand. Others, however, believe that this is simple genetics.

I went to a Roman Catholic elementary school, and fortunately the issue of my “handedness” never bothered the nuns – I was encouraged to write with whichever hand felt the most normal for me. The nuns also made certain that I didn’t write back-handed, but wrote with the paper slanted properly. However, I was also aware that being left-handed was weird to some people, and others felt it was a sign that I had evil tendencies. As a matter of fact, many idioms and written phrases indicate that the right hand is much preferred, even by God (Jesus sits on the right hand of God with the angels of death sitting on the left side). Paying a left-handed complement is one in which the positive statement has negative connotations; out of left field generally refers to something surprising and questionable in truthfulness; having two left feet means being clumsy; and when the left-hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, the left hand is clueless. Yes, bias against left-handed people has been part of many societies for millennia, and while left-handedness is more accepted, the implicit biases still exist.

I thought that I didn’t think a great deal about my left-handedness, until I realized how much I do think about it simply because society reminds me that I am in the minority on a daily basis. When I sign for a credit card purchase, more often than not the clerk with be helpful and slant the receipt for a right-handed people and then seem aggravated when I need to change the position of the receipt. Each morning when I fill up my lovely Bella tea kettle, I have difficulty seeing the fill line, for the fill line is on only one side, the side a right-handed person would be able to see easily. When I pick up a pair of scissors at work and turn them upside-down to use, other teachers or students notice and ask why I’m doing that. And when I cut something with a knife, right-handed people feel that it’s awkward or dangerous (normally because they stand in a place that I’m cutting toward, which is opposite of a right-handed person’s handling of a knife). So yes, I notice daily that I’m in the minority, albeit an invisible minority. And as part of this minority, there are efforts to marginalize me, albeit small, invisible efforts, and certainly not conspiratorial efforts.

The beauty of my minority status is how invisible it is. For most people who fall into a minority demographic, the minority status is quite visible or quite pronounced. And, while what I experience is a simplistic annoyance, the experience of other minority groups is invasive. And while the type of simplistic annoyance I experience is lessening, in today’s climate the type of treatment other minority groups experience is exploding.

Hate crimes are exploding, the war on women is mushrooming, and bullying is fuming. The truth is, intolerance is alive and well in a world that should be growing in tolerance. At one time, I honestly believed that “In our… efforts to become tolerant of everything, we have become intolerant of everyone.” Now, in 2017, my beliefs have changed. We are becoming intolerant of everything and everyone. We are allowing fear, anger, hostility, and frustration turn into the norm instead of the exception.

The truth is, in specific situations, every one of us may be a minority. The truth is, every one of us deserves respect and dignity. The truth is, in every situation, we need to move on beyond the concept of tolerance. When my 3-year-old grandson throws a temper tantrum, I tolerate his behavior, and then I attempt to correct the behavior. However, when friends and acquaintances express beliefs experiences that are culturally different from my beliefs or experiences, I need to do more than simply tolerate… I need to attempt to understand and certainly respect them. Except for one time – and that is when hate or intolerance is imbedded in there. Then I have to challenge it.

The analogy of my experiences as a minority of left-handed citizens to the experience of other minority groups is downright trite. However, even through such trite observations, we can all learn to be more understanding, more accepting, and more empathetic with the experiences of other minority groups. Will I ever understand what it’s like to be afraid to be pulled over by a police officer because of the color of my skin? Probably not. Will I ever be terrified that my family or I may be sent back to a war-torn country because of my immigration status? Again, probably not. Will I ever be treated like an outcast because of my sexual preference? Probably not. Will I ever be feared and vilified because of my religious beliefs. I highly doubt it. Should I identify with the experiences of these groups and fight with every fiber of my being to assure that each of these groups is treated with dignity and respect? Absolutely. Should I fight just as hard to make sure that the rights of these groups are protected? Absolutely. Without the rights of minorities being protected and honored, we all lose. Find whatever common ground you can find and respect it, build upon it. Stand up to hate rhetoric and call out friends who use ethnic slurs or disparaging talk. Determine that from today on, you will be someone who has respect for the human race, which encompasses a myriad of minorities, a plethora of differences, and a kaleidoscope of beliefs.



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