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The Trouble with Being Left Handed

 “Rejoice and love yourself today
’cause baby you were born this way.”    ~ Lady Gaga
Left handed: About to start kindergarten and learn that I was "different"

Maura Sweeney, left-handed child.

Lady Gaga had the world behind her when Born This Way hit the pop charts a few years ago.

But being born different wasn’t always viewed as reason to celebrate, especially if you were born left handed like me.

With paper and pen being replaced by texting, the obvious differences of being left-handed are often overlooked today. Except for sports and an occasional reference to POTUS, society pays little heed to left-handed people and as far as I’m concerned,  it’s not a bad thing.

However, this year’s Lefthanded Day beckons me to reflect on my own experiences as a south paw. The holiday also gives me opportunity to share how society has adapted, changed and perhaps become more tolerant when dealing with what’s different.

To begin with, I am old enough to recall how generations before mine viewed lefties. Once “discovered”, left-handed children were quickly taught to reform – and conform – by learning to write with their right hand instead.

More surprising, being left-handed brought the bearers of this unique condition into the realm of suspicion. Similar to black cats, left-handed people were considered odd and enigmatic.

That’s me in the photograph above, exactly fifty years ago this month. I was weeks away from starting kindergarten and I am proudly donning a school dress purchased in anticipation of my formal entry into the classroom.

I wonder today: Did anyone know I was already left-handed before I stepped into class? Did I know or even care that I was different?

I have long been told that I was the subject of study by two college coeds (one in education, the other in psychology) who found me a bit different as a child.

I wrote backwards. A black and white composition book reveals that my capital L’s were reversed and my 5′s looked like 2′s. I remember my lessons and having various letters and numbers circled for correction. My interpretations could have been a sign of dyslexia, a condition neither discovered nor diagnosed in the early 1960s.

I learned later on that my being different went beyond the typical writing of a dyslexic student. In my case, I wrote sentence upon sentence (likely copied from looking at the written word elsewhere) and none of what I wrote could be interpreted by the naked eye.

“I had to hold your written work up to a mirror in order to read it,” an elder cousin informed me, smiling. It was definitely different.

As a lefty, I was the student who looked different in class. I positioned my papers at an odd angle and twisted my left hand and arm into strange contortions so I could write like everyone else.

I have also been keen about seeing things at the end, but first. This strange proclivity seems quite natural to me but has often caused conflict. What I see as an obvious outcome has been, at times, argued or criticized by those around me.

“Maura, you see the end at the beginning,” my husband frequently reminds me. And it’s true. What is natural to me is not normative to others.

But, there have been other elements that have made me different. I appear quite intelligent on some levels and can often deliver nuggets of wisdom. However, ask me to drive around the block or find my way out of a mall without paying close attention to where I’ve entered and I can become easily disoriented.

My being different showed up even in midlife when I started blogging. My earliest recorded blog was entitled Tombstones and it dealt with death. In a fashion that appeared natural to a left-handed person who begins flipping pages of a book from last page to the first, I was writing my last blog first. After the end, it would feel natural for me to scribe the rest.

A few months ago, I learned something new from a retired college professor. Sitting at a luncheon across from this elder gentleman, he remarked at how I passed the rolls at our table.

“A lefty,” he observed in animated fashion, “and a woman!”

I smiled, not comprehending why he found either of my attributes to be of interest.

“I conducted a five year, unofficial study of  left-handed women after realizing how different they were, ” he informed me. Apparently, his study found that left-handed women differ even from left-handed men and prove remarkable in the manner in which they process information.

“How so?” I asked, now wanting to know his findings.

“For starters, I’ll bet that you could stand beside anyone and feel who they are. You would refer to it as intuition but has more to do with the way your left-handed brain functions. You interpret differently.”

Quite right, I thought. I have unintentionally surprised people by ascertaining their occupations and interests which they hadn’t yet disclosed.

Okay, I thought. I’ll give you that. But why?

He explained that most people, including left handed men, process information in linear fashion. Left-handed females do not. For example, if people were asked to measure the depth of a lake, most would process the depth in horizontal fashion and continue descending level by level. A left-handed female mind would process the depth in one take. I’d call that Eastern thought versus Western thought, but it did make some sense to me.

He went on. “I’ll bet you wouldn’t know how whether to file the word Paper Clip under P or C.”

I laughed out loud. “You’re absolutely right! I have one vertical file at home and it’s all marked Important.”

It’s not easy being a left-handed female. But I’ve never known life any other way.

I was born this way!

Read more from Maura Sweeney on her blog

Maura Sweeney

Author, Speaker, Publisher of MIKE Sports Comic Books. Huffington Post contributor. One part intelligence. One part scatterbrain. 100% purveyor of hope. A midlife woman on a journey to find what's higher, better, more authentic and more fun. Inspiring others to ask and believe for "What's next in life?" Find me asking insightful questions, discovering your hidden talents, and often forgetting your name. World traveler. Late-in-life dancer. Always engaging.

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Kay Lynn

Monday 29th of September 2014

Another lefty here. Fortunately no one tried to change me from using my left hand but I did have challenges learning how to use items designed for right handed people.

At times it was challenging learning new skills from my parents because they were both right handed so they had my cousin come stay and teach me things like tying shoes.


Saturday 27th of September 2014

Maura- OK this explains lots. I'm a lefty and filing is always a challenge. Does Water Bill go under "water" or "bill"? I add most recent statements to the BACK of the file folder. And then I put files back in the filing cabinet facing towards the left. Drives everyone else crazy.

Maybe the rights are wrong. And lefts are right! Rosemond


Friday 26th of September 2014

Really cool information! My hubby is left handed, but does all his sports (golf, etc) right handed. My older on is right handed, but does all his sports left handed (which is actually an advantage in sports). I think my son was supposed to be left handed and an early teacher must have made him use his right hand before we realized it. Thanks for sharing!

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