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The rights to be left-handed

Erickson Arthur Siahaan
Erickson Arthur Siahaan

Medical doctor, a resident of Psychiatry Department, University of Indonesia

Jakarta  /  Mon, August 6, 2018  /  05:39 pm
The rights to be left-handed

It is estimated that 10 percent of the world population is left-handed – more among males than females. (Shutterstock/File)

Every Aug. 13, left-handers around the world commemorate International Left-Handers Day to celebrate their unique individuality living among the dominant right-handers and at the same time accept the advantages and disadvantages of being left-handed.

But why do we need to be reminded of this? 

It is estimated that 10 percent of the world population is left-handed – more among males than females. Between 80 to 90 percent of the world’s population is left-handed and only 1 percent of the population is ambidextrous – the ability to use either hand with equal ease in their activities.

There is no official data for Jakarta or Indonesia as a whole; this could be due to the fact that being left or right handed is not yet viewed as significant enough to be given an identity. Left-handers have long been “oppressed” by circumstances. Many were treated differently than right-handed people. This is not surprising as social norms along with culture and religion have become determining factors that caused them to be stigmatized them. 

In the 16th century, when the power of the church was dominant in Europe, left-handers were often affiliated with the devil. It was the same in the Eastern culture. In a certain religion in the East, left-handedness was often seen as a dirty, unlucky hand, and many parents prohibited their children from using their left hand as the dominant one. Until the 1960s, it was common for the European community to convert left-handers to right-handers. It was also true in business industries. For example, no tools for the left-handers were ever produced unless specified. The world was solidly set for the majority.

Today, this stigmatization is less felt by our left-hander adults; however, it is not the case for schoolchildren. Being young and powerless, they are unable to oppose or keep their stand. They are forced to abide by what the people around them want them to be – to be the same as the majority.

Why is it difficult to get rid of this stigma? Parents, teachers and influential individuals in those children’s lives could be blamed for persistently forbidding the children from performing tasks with their left hand. Many understand that the left hand is used for cleaning up, whereas the right hand is for “noble” tasks such as giving handshakes, eating and writing.

This stigma is frequently inflicted on budding and developing young left-handers. They are battling between the need to embrace their natural aspect and follow the preference of people around them. Not many societies are ready for change. But is it not our differences that make life beautiful? Famous lefties such as Barack Obama, Henry Ford, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates and few others have proven that there is nothing wrong with being left-handed.

The process on how a person becomes left-handed is a complex riddle. It is there in an unborn child. The cerebrum, the largest part of the human brain, is symmetrical in shape and has two hemispheres with different functions. The results of a neurobiology study from the Biological Science Program at Northwestern University showed that the lateralization of the human cerebrum is closely related to language development, which in turn links to handedness and gross motor function. This lateralization process grounds the explanation on why certain individuals are left- or right-hand dominant.

Another study by McManus, titled "The inheritance of Left-handedness" in 1991, found that handedness is closely related to hereditary factors. Lefties are more likely to have left-handed parents, particularly left-handed mothers, which indicate possible maternal transmission. Left-handedness, by and large, is normal variance, although there is a small indication of maternal distress during pregnancy.

According to the book Right Hand, Left Hand published in London in 2002, on the societal level, left-handed people might enjoy a selective advantage because of their increased interhemispheric connectivity, possibly leading to enhanced cognitive abilities, such as creativity and language skills. The lateralization of brain function was long considered an exclusively human phenomenon.

Recent metaanalysis of over 40 studies done by Dragovic and Hammond in 2005 concluded, however, that psychiatric illness is more prevalent in lefties compared to righties. They are said to be highly sensitive compared to right-handed people in responding to problems, especially in the face of negative stigma against the use of the left hand among the society.

A further exploration is therefore needed by obtaining samples that are representative of the broader population, particularly among parents with left-handed children, especially in Jakarta. With the availability of accurate and valid data, it is hoped that it can help to establish the proportion of parents who reject the idea of left-handedness and are unsupportive of their children’s preference, and the reasons for doing so.

Every individual left-hander should be taught from a young age how to train their right hand’s abilities in respect of certain cultural values such as in giving and receiving of things, in shaking hands and also to enhance the development of logical and rational thinking as well as mathematical and sequential reasoning. It is important, however, for parents, teachers and people close to them to not impose restraint regardless of dominance in their preference in using either the left or right hand. Allowing the natural attributes within themselves to nurture and develop will enable them to maximize their true potential. Every left-hander has the right to be a left-hander.

Left-handed people also need a platform to come together to support each other through sharing of experiences and in developing their potential growth and creativity.

Happy International Left-Ganders Day 2018 to fellow lefties and to those who show concern for this matter. Own the celebration, and prove to the world that you are capable of contributing in many ways to the family, at the workplace and to your surround fraternities. (kes)

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The writer is a medical doctor, a resident of Psychiatry Department, University of Indonesia. He is also the founder of Jakarta Left Handed Community. Reach out to Erickson via Instagram @jakartalefthanded and @ericksonarthur.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.