Is Being Left-Handed Bad?

Today, clashes persist between those who view left-handedness as an abnormality linked to speech, learning, and developmental disabilities and those who celebrate it as a hallmark of creativity and talent.

Why is left-handedness still so widely misunderstood? Does left-handedness matter?

Years before he began his career as a scientist and social historian, Howard I. Kushner, Ph.D., was intrigued by left-handedness and its implications. A left-hander himself, he was raised by a natural left-hander; his mother struggled with reading difficulties and poor coordination, both of which she attributed to being forced to write and sew with her right hand.

In ON THE OTHER HAND: Left Hand, Right Brain, Mental Disorder, and History, Kushner delves into the beliefs and assumptions surrounding left-handedness around the world and throughout history. Combining medical and cultural research with personal experiences, he examines potential causes and effects of left-handedness with equal attention to genes and environment. “Our views on handedness,” as Kushner makes clear, “reflect unexamined values rather than objective findings”

Between 10 and 12 percent of all humans are left-handed, experts estimate. Why do roughly 90 percent of all the world’s people rely on their right hand for manual tasks? How does left-handedness affect the functioning of the left brain, which normally controls speech and language? Is being left-handed a mental handicap, a selective advantage, or simply a difference, like blue eyes? What is the toll of suppressing and scorning left-handedness, on not only individual left-handers but also on societies?

While leaving much about left-handedness to remain an enigma, ON THE OTHER HAND culminates with Howard Kushner’s informed conclusion: the causes of left-handedness are many and complex. What’s more, left-handedness places a significant, consequential role in determining a society’s level of tolerance. “Whenever left-handedness has been liberated from ancient prejudices, its reported numbers appear to have increased,” Kushner notes. Wider acceptance of left-handers for who they are encourages wider cultural diversity.

HOWARD I. KUSHNER, Ph.D., the Nat C. Robertson Distinguished Professor of Science & Society Emeritus at Emory University and the John D. Adams Professor of History Emeritus at San Diego State University, is currently a visiting scholar in the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition at the University of California, San Diego. A left-hander and an accomplished writer (despite dismal penmanship grades in grammar school), he is also the author of A Cursing Brain? The Histories of Tourette Syndrome and American Suicide.

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