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Southpaws struggle for acceptance

A left-hander's look at a cruel universe

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (May 21/01) - There are hunters and scientists who say that polar bears tend to favour their left paws over their right when hunting.

This may seem meaningless, trivial even, to those of you born on the winning side of the right-handed person's world.

Left hand facts:

  • The Latin word for left means sinister - this is why we've been taught to throw spilled salt over our left shoulder
  • Left hands are used as 'toilet hands' in many cultures - this means it may be bad manners to eat with your left hand in some countries
  • The use of toilet paper in western culture means there are likely more left-handed people
  • One-third of all American presidents are left-handed
  • Two left-handed people have a 50 per cent chance of producing a left-handed child
  • Up to 13 per cent of the population in their 20s is left-handed as compared to just one per cent of the population in their 80s - researchers attribute this to children being forced to use their right hands.

  • But, for the estimated 10 per cent of us born into the realm of the southpaw, knowing that the graceful polar bear is on our side is reason enough to celebrate.

    Indeed, it's extremely uplifting to know that the daily trials we face in a world set up by righties -- trials that make us appear clumsy, utterly devoid of a sense of direction and more than a little backwards -- might not exist on the sea ice. Unconvinced of our woe? Read on.

    Simply watch how most lefties grip a pen or a pencil. That awkward curve of the wrist, or the bizarre angle we turn the page we're writing on, is not something righties will ever become acquainted with.

    Stick around for a moment as one of us performs the painful task of operating a power tool.

    Wait patiently as we struggle with a pair of those idiotic left-handed scissors or sit through a guitar lesson or a maybe a knitting class as one of us tries to pick up a relatively simple skill.

    It might be enough to drive you righties to drink (yet another affliction left-handers face).

    Studies show that lefties are more susceptible to the charms of alcohol and are therefore, three times more likely than righties to become alcoholics. No wonder given the obstacles we have to overcome.

    Take Ron Light, for example. Now the general manager of Nanisivik Mine, located at the north end of Baffin Island, the title wasn't earned without hardship.

    In his 28 years in the mining industry, Light held eight different positions in eight different mines.

    Most came with their own specific learning curves, but the one thing that remained constant was the need imposed on Light to adapt to the way of the righty.

    "(Mining) is basically tailored to right-handed people," said Light.

    "The machinery controls are geared towards right-handed people, but left-handed people are so smart, we adapt very quickly," he said.

    Light cited the jackleg drill to illustrate his point. An air-fed drill used to burrow into rock for ore, the controls are all located on the right hand side of the machine.

    Lefties either have to operate the switches with their right hands or they have to stand to the right of the drill and use their left hands.

    "It makes it a tad inconvenient," said Light.

    "You basically have to learn to drill again ... but I learned to adapt."

    For Naomi MacCallum, a Rankin Inlet resident originally from Iglulik, learning to sew was a tough task.

    Her mother, a righty, had to figure out how to sew with her wrong hand just to show MacCallum how to stitch.

    "Sewing was hard," said MacCallum.

    "When I was getting taught, there were all these right-handed people and they had a tough time teaching me," said MacCallum, whose father was also left-handed.

    While on the topic of parents and children, psychological studies show left-handed children are stubborn, oversensitive, impulsive and embarrassing to their family members.

    While such might not be the case in Fred Cornelssen's home in Kugluktuk, he did face an interesting situation by siring two left-handed daughters, a feat he and his right-handed spouse had just a two per cent chance of accomplishing.

    "If they used a knife and I picked it up, the butter would be on the wrong side," said Cornelssen.

    He said they tried to change their daughters' handedness by putting their pens in their right hands, but the kids' determination to be lefties -- said to be developed by five-years of age -- won out.

    "It was like they were born with it in their heads," he said.

    It's in our genes

    Research suggests the trait is triggered by the amount of testosterone in the fetus -- meaning more males than females are left-handed.

    Lefties are also prone to bed-wetting past the age of three, have more allergies, are less susceptible to types of cancer and infection, and are more inclined to have speech problems.

    All that aside, we do have our moment of glory -- on Aug. 13, lefties around the globe will celebrate the 26th annual International Left-Handers Day.