Burrard Toastmasters
Vancouver's leading business-oriented public speaking club
Club Speeches

Left Out

By Colleen Wood

I have been accused of being a social inconvenience, rebellious, prone to criminality, mental retarded and neurotic. Some people even have said I have the mark of the devil. And although some of my best friends might agree with these descriptions these prejudices are due to something I do as naturally as breathing.

I am a LEFTIE.

I am 1 out of 10 of the population and in one of the largest unorganized minorities discriminated against every day. And although we are also thought to be more creative and empathetic…the sad fact is that left-handers suffer more physical and psychological damage and die 9 years before all our right-handed counterparts.

Every culture and its language have cemented the notion that left equals bad. The Anglo Saxon word "LYFT" means weak or broken and the Oxford dictionary defines left as crippled, awkward and doubtful. The French for left is "GAUCHE" which we use in our everyday language and in Latin left means sinistrum or evil. Even the gypsies word "BONGO" for left is used to describe a crooked card game.

If I am giving a "left-handed compliment" it's an insult - and a person who is hopeless on the dance floor has two left feet. Even our superstitions have us throwing salt over our left shoulder because that's where the devil lurks. The supposedly "romantic" wedding ring was put on the weakest finger of the weakest hand to ward off temptation.

In contrast to these not so complimentary definitions - "right-handed" in the dictionary simply says "to favor the right hand".

It is universally accepted that LEFT is bad and RIGHT is good but is there any truth to these myths? Unfortunately there is. Stanley Coren, a professor of psychology at UBC, has researched left-handedness for several years and has found some surprising data. With his initial research he took three age groups - 20, 50 and 80 - to see what percentages were left-handed. At age 20, 13% were left-handed, at age 50 it went down to 5% and at age 80 there were less than 1% left-handers remaining. He was baffled by this statistic and the dramatic drop off - and after proving all humans are genetically coded to be right-handers went on to find out why 13% of the population deviates from the norm.

By doing brain mapping to characterize the differences between the left and right hemispheres, they found the LEFT hemisphere is predominantly connected to the right side of the body and the RIGHT to the left side. 

The LEFT hemisphere is the center of language and it is more susceptible to being damaged. It gets less blood supply and takes up more energy, so if oxygen is deprived at birth or during an accident the left side is the first to be harmed. When damage is done normal development of right-handedness cannot take place and lefties are created. 

The RIGHT hemisphere is the center of spatial and perceptual thinking which is why there are many more left-handed chess players and architects than in the general population. With right brain damage many patients have problems visualizing and claim to no longer remember their dreams. 

BIRTH STRESSES also affect handedness. A large percentage of left-handers experienced breech or premature births, the use of instruments and caesarian sections. Also a high percentage of their mothers smoked. 

As well as birth stresses, there are a high percentage of left-handers who have psychological problems or are drawn to criminality. Schizophrenics and juvenile delinquents as well as alcoholics and people with depression are in this group.

There was another finding which may explain the near disappearance of left-handers in old age. Because 9 out of 10 people are right-handed Coren assumed this same majority were designing industrial tools and machinery - and they were designing for right-handers. Because of this, over 89% of left-handers are more likely than right-handers to be injured in accidents. This causes more stress to the body, more infections and more accidental deaths. 

SAWS, for instance, are designed so the wood is held in the right hand and all switches on tools are on the right. This makes it very dangerous for left-handers to reach awkwardly across the saw. This, or they switch to their right hand. SCISSORS and SHEARS don't work in the left hand and can openers, coffee machines, knives and most importantly - corkscrews. If you are right-handed you will turn the screw clockwise utilizing the natural turn of the thumb - the opposite for a leftie. 

It seems a grim picture has been painted for the leftie but there is still hope. Through educating young designers, doctors and the general public, changes can be made to make the lefties world easier and less dangerous. 

So if you happen to be at a dinner party and see an awkward looking guest struggling with the corkscrew - assume they are left-handed, offer your assistance, and give them your empathy - because from what you know they have to go through every day they probably need a drink quite badly!

Read other speeches