By Ogova Ondego
Published March 14, 2017
When three-year-old Maria shook grandma Nyakoha’s hand with her left hand, the latter reprimanded her for being ill-mannered. However, when five days passed and Maria continued to get things and to eat with the same hand, grandma concluded the problem was deeper than mere lack of discipline – it was a sign of bad omen for the family, Maria being her first grandchild. She not only rebuked the girl constantly but also advised her parents to punish her so that she could use her ‘proper’ hand in accomplishing tasks. Her parents’ friends and neighbours also advised them to take her to a psychiatrist.
At four, Maria returned from school crying with a swollen left hand. Asked what had happened, she said the teacher had tied her hand at her back to dissuade her from writing with it. Her parents left the matter at that.
Our world seems to teach that being left-handed is an abnormality. If it does not force us to use the ‘right’ hand, it merely tolerates us. And why not? This is a righties’ world. Machines, door knobs, tools and desks are designed for right handed people. It is hard to find hockey sticks, golf clubs and scissors for lefties. When eating on a dining table with right handers, the exercise becomes an elbow fight.
Because working tools are designed for righties, lefties find it difficult to use them. Consequently, this could limit their employability and productivity as they may have to work twice as much to keep pace with their right hand counterparts.
In a letter to a Nairobi daily newspaper, Tom Olang – who identifies himself as a leftie – takes issue with the Bible for saying that Jesus is seated at the ‘right hand side of God’ as if the left side would be considered a sin! He says parents who force their children to switch from left to right hand when working or greeting people are as bad as racists, tribalists and misogynists as they are discriminators!
“Society should not discriminate against us just because we are left-handed. It is painful to grow up knowing that you are rejected for being different,” says David Orondo, a leftie.
Saying he first came to know he was left-handed at five years when his siblings put pepper on his hand which burnt him, Orondo says he had to learn to be a rightie.
“Unfortunately, I did not train my right foot as well. I kick the ball with my left foot,” he says. “Whenever I did not make the football team at school during crucial matches, I always felt that it was due to my inability to use the right foot. I had been discriminated against!”
Placed between a rock and a hard place, lefties are said to be more adaptable, fiercely independent, persistent, determined, non-conformists and more creative than conformist righties over whom they have an edge in games like baseball and table and lawn tennis.
While some scientists say someone’s use of a particular hand is determined genetically, others say it is an environmental or learnt matter. Still others say the structure and functioning of the brain is responsible for the hand one uses. There can be no doubt that the third explanation has gained currency worldwide.
While the left side of the brain handles language and logical functions like mathematics and sequential tasks, writes Chander Mehra, the right takes care of visual and spatial configurations, geometric patterns, abstract thoughts and creativity. Left handedness is attributed to the slow growth of the logical left side of the brain and faster growth of the artistic right side.
Proponents of environmental factors argue that when a child is born it uses both hands with the same dexterity but that this changes as the child sees people around it using their right hands and also when it is constantly reminded it is wrong to use the left hand when greeting people, serving them food or writing.
Dr Frank Njenga, the Nairobi psychiatrist who subscribes to the genetic explanation, warns that forcing a left-handed child to use the right hand may harm it.
“You may succeed in making him or her use the right hand to do certain things but overall the child will continue using the left hand,” he says, warning that such a child’s personality may be affected in the sense that he may become nervous and anxious besides developing speech difficulties like stuttering or stammering.
Recent explanations have it that left handedness results from stressful or complicated births; the older a mother, the more likely she is to face difficult pregnancies and child birth and therefore the higher the chance of giving birth to a left-handed child.
Quoting researchers at Canada’s University of British Columbia, Mehra writes that mothers aged between 30 and 35 years have a 25% higher chance of having left-handed children. The probability increases to 70% and 130% higher for mother between 35 and 39, and 40 years, respectively.
Whatever the explanation, there can be no doubt that lefties are not accidents. They are just different.
Did you know that well known and talented global personalities like Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, Martina Navratilova, Paul McCartney, Tom Cruise, John McEnroe and Bill Clinton are lefties? Playwright William Shakespeare, artists Leonardo da Vinci and Pablo Picasso, and empire builders Napoleon Bonaparte and Alexander the Great were left handers.
By the way, some time back all the US presidential candidates – George Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot – were lefties. This race proved that lefties are no pushovers!