Looking Left (Handed) to Creativity

Our next President will be left-handed. Both Barak Obama and John McCain are left-handed, although only about 10 percent of the general population is, give or take 3 percent, depending on the study you check.

Most of us left-handers have some degree of ambidexterity, and some people (full disclosure: I’m one of these) write right-handed. Our group is generally a bit older, and would have been left-handed writers, but were changed in school.

Two custom-made left-hand pendants

Two custom-made left-hand pendants

Here’s a tip to tell if you are classified as left-handed: what hand do you brush your teeth with? How about comb your hair? (That was for men, for women, the question is more often, “What hand holds the hair dryer?) Other, more private functions, can also determine if you are left- or right-handed.

What made you left handed? It happened in the womb. LRRTM1 is the gene thought to be responsible, but there is even more involved. According to neurologist Norman Geschwind (for whom the theory is named), some women have higher testosterone levels in the womb, whether or not they have girls or boys. (Want to check if your mom did? Look at your second toe, the one next to the big toe. If it is equal in length (or longer) than the big toe, your mom had higher testosterone levels while she was pregnant, and you are probably left-handed.

How does that work? According to Geschwind’s research, the testosterone levels suppress the growth of the left side of the brain, and the ambitious neurons go over to the right brain and do their growing over there. The more developed right side of the brain, which controls language skills, also controls hand-preference.

The dominant right side can also make you susceptible to dyslexia, stuttering, and some auto-immune diseases. Before I go on, please note that not all of these will happen to you, and you can be firmly right-handed and have that longer toe. These are based on huge samples across demographic lines.

Left-handers are generally more adaptable, because they have to get used to living in a right-handed world. Problem-solving skills are higher among creative people than the general population, and it might come from trying to figure things out.

A few companies have created tools for left-handers. For years, scissors that claimed to be for left-handers, simply reversed the grips, making left-handers “cut blind”, in other words, the part of the scissors that did the work was still on the original side, and you couldn’t see the part you were cutting. Friskars actually reverses the blade, and I’m grateful to them for thinking this through.

If you are left-handed, there are resources for you. If you are a right-handed parent of a left-handed child, there are also resources for you.

–Quinn McDonald is left-handed and a certified creativity coach. She helps people navigate change in their lives. See her work at QuinnCreative.com Image: two pendants from the collection of Quinn’s left-handed jewelry. (c) 2008, Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved.

7 thoughts on “Looking Left (Handed) to Creativity

  1. I remember being hit by a ruler by a nun, when
    I used my left hand. Thank God, by second grade they left (no pun intended) me alone!
    I am an artist..at least in my own mind.
    To this day I still can’t cut very straight!!
    Thanks for explaining the scissors!
    No longer do I feel ‘left’ out when I tackle
    the world. You go girl!!

    —That sounds like a really horrible experience. Left-handers of the world, unite! -Q

  2. As a lefty, it’s a shame so many terms for ‘left’ are negative:
    Latin for ‘left’ is ‘sinister’.
    In French, left is ‘gauche’ which also means ‘awkward’ or ‘clumsy’.
    If you can’t dance, you have ‘two left feet’.
    And in German, ‘links’ (left) is also synonymous with ‘awkward’ or ‘clumsy’.
    In Italian, left handed is ‘mancino’ which has additional meanings of ‘treacherous’ or ‘dirty’.
    In Spanish ‘left handed’ is ‘zurdo’. There is also a phrase ‘no ser zurdo’ which translates literally as ‘not to be left handed’ but actually means ‘to be very clever’.
    Similarly, Portuguese for left handed is ‘canhoto’ or ‘weak’

    —Wow, Carol, you have done a LOT of research on this. In French “a droit” means “right” and we get our word “adroit” from it. Sigh. Us lefties have a lot of setting the world ri. . left. -Q

  3. Nice post. I’m ambidextrous, but write right-handed. I suppose I could teach my left hand to write, but at the moment, that would make my handwriting even worse.

    Your tests don’t work for me though. I shave and comb my hair with my right hand on the right side, left hand on the left side. I discovered that that was odd when I took part in a test and the tester asked me just those questions. I brush my left teeth with my right hand and my right teeth with my left, think about it 🙂

    I truly became aware of my odd shaving habits when I watched a razor blade commercial on TV and actually paid attention. They made a big fuss about this blade being able to handle the “awkward zone” and I watched the actor struggling to shave the area on the left under his chin with his right hand. I asked myself why that looked strange and why I did not have that problem (and probably did not need that brand of razor blade) and suddenly realized he was using the wrong hand!

    In the time that judges ruled Israel, the percentage of left-handed men seems to have been less than 3%. In the Book of Judges (Douay translation, Catholic Bible) all able-bodied men were assembled into an army and we read:

    The number of the Benjaminite swordsmen from the other cities on that occasion totaled twenty-six thousand, in addition to the inhabitants of Gaaba. Included in this total were seven hundred picked men who were left-handed, every one of them able to sling a stone at a hair without missing. Judges 20:15-16.

  4. Quinn,

    I’m left-handed, and I’m ambidextrous. I can write fairly well with my right hand, though I don’t. As a child, I practiced writing with both hands.

    My father didn’t like that I was left-handed. He believed in some myth that I never lived up to, thankfully. Left-handers are witches, he thought.

    He died when I was still a toddler, but I’m sure it must be because of him that I play ball and other sports with my right hand. I brush my teeth, cut with scissors and sew with my left. But I never thought my mom had anything to do with it.

    Thanks for the interesting post.


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