For those of you who don’t know,
I am left handed.
I’ve never thought of it as overly interesting. At best, it was a random, mildly interesting fact about myself.
However, only a few generations ago, I would have likely been forced to use my right hand instead. I recently looked into the practice and mostly found several message boards of people who report mild to moderate psychological trauma over being forced to use their right hands through various methods such as having their left hand tied behind their back, or even corporal punishment by their teachers or parents. Many were left with crippling insecurities and some even developed speech problems such as stuttering. Recent studies show that the natural way a lefty’s brain works is changed when forced to write with his or her right hand.
Why would such a practice ever have started?
Well, it would seem that it started the same way most discrimination starts. People in the minority are generally seen as “wrong.” Since only about 10% of the population is left-handed, it seems that the other 90% believed that they needed to fix the rest of us.
The bias against left-handed people still exists in many ways. Language, for example, carries much of this bias to this day. Phrases in English like “two left feet” or “left-handed compliment” are some of the more obvious. Less widely recognized are words like “sinister” which comes from the Latin word for “left.” In fact, in many languages, “left” (or words whose root means “left”) has meanings ranging from “clumsy” to “dishonest” to “adulterous.”
Beyond language is the way left-handed people are discriminated against in terms of accessibility to left-handed tools and instruments, which at best require special ordering or, worse, significant price increases.
So, am I outraged at the way the world discriminates against me for being left handed?
In a word, no.
Why, might you ask? The most obvious reason is that modern American society has taken great steps in terms of accepting us leftys. No one ever told me I was evil or bad or wrong for being left handed. Teachers are no longer allowed to punish students for using their left hands.
But, as I thought about it, I believe the single most important reason I don’t feel in any way upset about being left-handed is the way my family responded to my being left-handed. My parents are both right-handed, so they had no experience to draw from in this area. However, my left-handedness was never looked down upon, and was perhaps even celebrated.
I was given left-handed scissors (which I promptly lost, learned to use right-handed scissors, and when I found them again I decided to cut my hair with them. True story.) I was free to happily use my left hand to write and draw. If I ever was teased for being left-handed, I don’t remember it. Perhaps because I never was, or perhaps because I knew it was something that made me special. Unique.
And here’s my point. Let’s not shove insecurities onto our children. As a new parent, I’ve thought a lot about how everything I do will somehow affect my son. I have my own insecurities. I’m sure you do as well. And at some point, my son will also. And as much as I would like to think differently, my son will be influenced by mine.
No matter what the parents do, every child will be perceived as being “different” in some way. His or her peers will always find some reason to tease them. We are all somehow “disadvantaged.”
So let’s not put any added insecurities on our children. Let’s not allow our own biases and insecurities affect the way our children see themselves. It’s our job, as parents, to build up our children’s self-confidence and self-worth before the world tries to tear them down.
Say, for example, that you have a large nose. Perhaps you were teased for it, and grew up hating it. Perhaps your insecurity kept you from being as self-confident as you could have been. Now let’s say your child inherits this nose. If you try to commiserate with your child over your shared hardship even before they’ve been teased, they will likely become self-conscious about it at an early age. Perhaps they still would have been teased and become self-conscious. Or maybe not. Your experience isn’t your child’s. But if your child first knows you accept him or her unconditionally and aren’t interested in trying to change who they are, they will likely confide in you. Maybe then you can tell them about how you, too, were teased for your nose.
Perhaps your particular disadvantage is significantly more difficult to deal with than being left-handed or having a big nose. American society still has a long way to go on accepting people of minority races or people with physical and mental disabilities.
However, studies have shown that families in ethnic minorities who celebrate their cultural heritage instead of focusing on the way they are discriminated against in every circumstance have children who are more well-adjusted and successful.
I don’t mean to say we should not continue to work toward equality on all fronts. Society still has a long way to go in a lot of areas.
But what I’m talking about is individual families. Your family. My family.
As parents, we are likely to know our children’s “disadvantages” before they do. But let’s not turn them into “issues.” Let’s not try to change who they are. Let’s find their strengths and celebrate them. Show them that people with their “disadvantage” have done great things.
For me, I know that left-handed people have their own advantages. A greater percentage of them become Mensa members, Nobel Prize winners, and Presidents (out of the last 7 Presidents of the United States, 4 are left-handed and one was ambidextrous.) Recent studies suggest left-handed people are better at multitasking.
For 4 years, I worked with preschoolers with Autism. The children I worked with whose families focused more on their abilities than disabilities were happier and, I think, were able to achieve more. In the words of Temple Grandin, a highly successful person with Autism, “Different. Not less.” I think that applies for all children. Adults, too.
In any case, thanks for reading my rants.
And thanks, Mom and Dad, for accepting me unconditionally, the way I was made. You showed me how to accept God’s unconditional love. Thanks for giving me the courage to find my passions and pursue them.
Even when that meant being a cheerleader. ;)