As a young boy who grew up left handed, I didn’t understand the world in which I lived was basically not designed for me. The only other person I knew who was left handed was my little sister, and when I was 12 she was much too young to make a difference to me. Fortunately, I didn’t grow up at the time when teachers would force children to use their right hand even though it was not natural. I have read the studies conducted about how wrong this ‘beat it out of them’ thought process was.
And what of being left handed? Well, one of the first things I realized was when I finally got to use a pen in school, (I think it was fourth grade). The bottom of my left hand would always be smeared with blue ink. This is because the left hand pushes the pen and the hand rubs over the freshly inked text. Conversely, the right handed person pulls the pen away from the fresh ink. As an adult this is not such a big deal, it just means I’ll never have much use for a fountain pen. And I maintain it is easier to push the pen than it ever would be to pull it.
Who are some famous and accomplished left handed people or at least started out naturally left handed? Well let’s see. There is Tiger Woods, who began playing golf left handed only to be ‘corrected’ by his father Earl. There is Phil Mickelson, the number two golfer (World Ranking 2007 & 2008) who is naturally right handed learned to play the game standing opposite his father. Other famous left hand golfers include: Nick O’Hern, Mike Weir, Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan. Hockey greats Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito, NASCAR driver Terry Labonte, Olympic Swimmer Mark Spitz (wonder what he’s up to these days?), Tennis Players: Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Monica Seles are/were all left handers.
Add in the new tennis sensation, Rafael Nadal – Baseball’s Yogi Berra, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey, Jr and ‘The Unit’ Randy Johnson are all lefties. Reggie Jackson and Sandy Koufax both threw left handed. Bruce Jenner (Decathlon) is another lefty. NFL Quarterbacks: Boomer Esiason and Steve Young are too. Looks like I’m in good company.
There is much known about how left handed people were regarded in history, for many years it was believed that left handed people were ‘Sinistral.’ This Latin term is a un-educated, suspecting thought process led many to believe lefties were ‘unlucky’ or born to be ‘evil.’
Today, it is commonly known that left handed people dominantly rely on the right hemisphere – the creative or artistic side of the brain. This might explain why so many famous entertainers are left handed.
Singers David Bowie and Phil Collins, George Michael and Robert Plant are all left handers. Famous guitar players include Doyle Bramhall II. A name you may not recognize but this accomplished musician has played lead guitar with some of the great ones: Roger Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughn and old slow hand himself, Mr. Eric Clapton. An interesting note, Doyle actually plays a right handed guitar upside down as did Jimmy Hendrix, and Paul McCartney of the Beatles. Glen Frey of The Eagles is actually a left hander who learned to play ‘normal’ or right handed. And there’s more; Curt Cobain of Nirvana, Seal, Bob Geldof, Ali (and his brother Robin) Campbell of reggae band UB40, and Jimmy Cliff are all left side dominant.
Our 44th President of the United States – Barrack Obama, and President Bill Clinton are both left handed. Bill Gates and John D. Rockefeller are two very successful left handed business men as were Henry Ford and his son, Henry Jr. Famous scientists Albert Einstein and Marie Curie were both LH.
There are famous left handed boxers too. Oscar de la Hoya, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Rocky Balboa (played by S. Stallone) all stood with right side forward allowing for the big left cross or hook.
And where did the term South Paw come from? Growing up, I always thought the term came during the early days of America when settlers were moving west the left hander – held the horse’s reins with the south paw. But according to a write up found on Wikipedia (reliable information, right?) the term comes from early baseball. When the ball fields were built with home plate oriented West so batters would be facing East during the afternoon games with the sun over their shoulder. The pitcher would stand facing west and those throwing left, used the “South Paw.”
Buzz Armstrong and Wally Schirra were both left handed Astronaut’s.
Famous actor’s Jason Alexander, Richard Dreyfuss, W.C. Fields, “The Great One” – Jackie Gleason, Rock Hudson and Cary Grant – all lefties. Brad Pitt, brothers; Randy and Dennis Quaid, Richard Pryor, Mickey Rourke, Sly Stallone, Bruce Willis and his former wife Demi Moore can also be added to the list.
Other famous actresses include: Drew Barrymore, Kim Basinger, Judy Garland and Greta Garbo all left handed. Whoopi Goldberg and Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman and Sarah Jessica Parker, all left handed. Talk show greats Jay Leno, David Letterman, Oprah Winfrey and journalist Peter Jennings, also make the list. Actress Marlee Matlin and twin sisters Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen – are lefties.
Living in a right handed world. Studies had indicted that better than 90% of the population was right handed, and with it the thought process being the majority must be correct, or in this case ‘right.’ The roads in America were setup for driving on the ‘right side.’ At a time when there was much sentiment toward British rule (drivers of the left hand side, this was most probably an easy concept to sell. This allowed the right hander to use the stick shift, a mechanism which required a certain level of coordination with his dominant hand, and it was pointed out that the right hand would be available to jot down notes. Left handed police officers were historically assigned as the subordinate partner and required to sit in the right seat to allow use of the left hand for writing citations.
Later on, as squad cars were outfitted with computers, the mouse pad could be configured for use with either hand.
When it comes to dexterity, there are many tools designed specifically for the population majority. Ever tried to use the wrong hand to cut something with a pair of scissors? At seventeen, my father gave me a job installing carpeted floors. Trouble was all the scissors in the box were too big for my hands and were right handed. Today I realize the scissor blade is oriented so that the cutting line is visible to the right eye and cuts are made away from the user’s right hand. Not so, when a lefty grabs a right handed pair. The top of the thumb loop cuts into the back of left thumb knuckle, I remember this all too well and I had a hell of a time learning to cut straight even with a chalk line. This was simply because I couldn’t see the straight edge of the blade.
In today’s world, being left handed isn’t such a concern. As an Airbus captain, I use a tiller and side stick, both on the left to control the airplane. There are plenty of manufacturers who make left handed golf clubs, the roller ball pen I use writes beautifully smooth (without smear), and the computer I use has a centered pad which is accessible to either hand. Probably like most, I have learned some great compensation skills, which helps when a restaurant serves coffee in a right handed cup.
Btw: Did you know Bart Simpson, Kermit the Frog and his creator Jim Henson are all lefties? Really, it is true.