Damn It Feels Good to Be a Lefty

I am a lefty. I write, eat, and brush my teeth left handed.

About 90% of the adult population is right handed. I am a minority. I am oppressed.

I am an oppressed lefty. In school I struggled to write in notebooks with spirals on the lefthand side. And I could never use scissors very well.

Like many lefties, I am also somewhat ambidextous — I throw a baseball and shoot a basketball with my right hand. Lefties usually develop right-handed preferences to use tools (like scissors) or in response to parental instruction.

I may be oppressed, but I’m damn proud about who I am and where I came from. Consider the following facts about lefthandedness:

  • Left-handed people as a group have historically produced an above-average quota of high achievers.
  • Left-handers’ brains are structured differently in a way that widens their range of abilities, and the genes that determine left-handedness also govern development of the language centres of the brain.
  • In 2006, researchers at Lafayette College and Johns Hopkins University in a study found that left-handed men are 15 percent richer than right-handed men for those who attended college, and 26 percent richer if they graduated. The wage difference is still unexplainable and does not appear to apply to women.
  • Handedness researchers Coren and Clare Porac have shown that left-handed university students are more likely to major in visually-based, as opposed to language-based subjects. Another sample of 103 art students found an astounding 47 percent were left- or mixed-handed.
  • One out of seven left-handers processes language using both sides of the brain, compared with just one out of twenty in the general (predominantly right-handed) population, perhaps because of a relationship between dexterity and language. With both halves involved in language, this may lead to better verbal ability and an easier time processing complex concepts.

Political success and lefthandedness are also linked. Six out of the last twelve presidents of the United States have been lefties. All the major candidates the 1992, 1996, and 2008 presidential elections were lefties (H.W Bush, Clinton, Dole, Perot, McCain, Obama).

There are various theories about why lefties outperform. Some have to do with dexterity and the brain. Others have to do with the resilience that’s accumulated when lefties grow up in a society that’s built for righties.

What made me look up these data?

The other week the great, eminent economist Tyler Cowen watched me sign a piece of paper. “Are you left-handed?” he asked. I said yes. I asked if he was too, and he said yes. Seth Roberts, the great, eminent psychologist, walked up and joined the conversation and noted that he as well was left-handed, and he remarked upon the above-cited studies. There was a pause. I stared deeply into each of their eyes. The air was pregnant with a felt understanding that there was at that very moment a connection. A divine connection. A transcendent connection. Our childhood discrimination — the scissors, the notebooks, people next to us at dinner tables hitting us with their elbows — had more than been made up by our adult super-powered-hybrid-equipped-right-brain-left-brain cognitive fireworks. We may be supremely confident in our abilities at present, I told them in not so many words, but we can never forget where we came from. Tyler whispered something very softly, something I shall not repeat on this blog, and the three of us finished our conversation with a simultaneous left eye-wink.

Bottom Line: My left-handed brothers and sisters: We got to stick together. Strength in numbers. Pound it up. Come in for the real thing.

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