I feel I am kinda qualified to speak about this since I am a left hander and is brought up in a Chinese family.
In the olden Chinese culture, being left handed was not allowed in the past. In this article, I would discuss on:
- whether being left handed is more for creative people
- what happens when a person who inborn left handed is forced to write with right hand (as in my late and some of his siblings)
- whether parents should discourage their children not to use their left hand
Why we should not force left handed children to use their right hand
Both my brother and I are left handed. It is quite obvious we have inherited this trait from my late dad’s side as my mom and her birth family to my knowledge are all right handed.
My late dad and a few of his siblings had shown natural inclination to write with left hand from young. However being raised in an era where Chinese customs were still enforced, being left handed was just not allowed. My dad was actually caned by teachers in the Chinese school he went to if ever he was seen using his left hand. He was also not allowed by his father and mother to use his left hand to write. The same went for his siblings who were left handed.
Eventually my dad used his right hand to write and continued to do so during his lifetime.
I always feel that the fact that he and some of his siblings were forced to switch from their natural hand…. it took away something from them. A kind of natural flow and adaptability that got suppressed along when the dominant hand was forcibly switched.
I would explain further because when it came to my time, my parents allowed us to remain as left handed.
Born left handed is inborn
I believe the dominant hand where we use to perform important tasks and to write on is inborn in us. I no longer keep tabs with the most recent research on this subject but I was told that left handed people tend to use their right brain more, and hence is more creative. While right handed people use their left brain which is of more logical nature.
This part I do not really agree because I have seen very talented artists and illustrators who are actually right handed; and competent doctors and accountants who are left handed.
The case of being left handed is inborn can be seen in my brother. The moment my brother could write, he started using his left hand. My mother tried to urge him to use his right hand by trying to ‘bribe’ him with incentives such as colour pencils and toys. But he would switch back to his left hand the moment he got the gifts.
One incident show to me that being left handed is really inborn. When my brother was about 9 years old, he fell from a chair one day and broke his left elbow. He was hospitalized for a few days and his left hand was placed in a cast for a few months. During that time, he could not use his left hand at all to write.
My mom thought it would be a good time to switch him over since he could not use his left hand. While he was recovering, my mom got him some crayons and colour pencils, with a colouring book. My mother urged and encouraged him to learn to write with his right hand. My brother was the quiet type so he did not say anything but as he loved to colour, he was colouring and writing using his right hand.
The moment his left hand recovered enough and the cast was removed, he switched back to his left hand to write. My mother seeing this, decided not to force the issue and just let him be.
I am from Malaysia, so we go to school with friends from different religion and backgrounds. To my understanding, being left handed was frowned upon in the Malay, Chinese and Indian culture as left hand was considered unclearn. I remembered a few classmates who were born left handed were forced by their parents to use their right hand to write. I had classmates who were left handed but they were few because society still frown upon left handers especially the Chinese families.
My parents did the best when they allowed us to just be…
Things were a little awkward because we still grow up in the time where being left handed were still being frowned upon…even though things were starting to change a little. I remember getting disapproval stares from adults outside when they saw us writing with our left hand. Some of them even questioned my parents why they allowed their children to write with left hand, implying that there were flaws in the way they bring us up.
But my mom herself was English educated where she went through the British education system. So she did not understand what is wrong with using left hand and saw no point of forcing us (since she realized how futile it was to switch my brother).
At first my dad was not thrilled that both his children were left handed because he was under pressure from his traditional Chinese family upbringing. But then, he remembered the hardship he suffered, and how he had to suffer a lot of caning before he was able to switch to writing with his right hand. He did not want us to go through what he did so he did not pursue the matter.
Left handers are not unrealistic creative dreamers and starving artists
There were also some misconception that left handed people are supposed to be more artistic and creative. And some people associate being artistic and creative to being a dreamer or an impractical starving artist.
This is not the case. Both my brother and I do not have any artistic and musical talents. Creativity is not something limited to artists and those who pursue careers in creativity fields.
My brother has excellent memory and like to read history, and events happening around the world…. and at the same time like to count stocks so he did well in logistic and warehousing field where is now build his career. While it does not show up in any art knowledge, he became very good at his work and was able to create systems and adapt to changes. He also had a way of making history come alive by the way he articulate historical events.
I myself also went into corporate career which had nothing to do with creativity field. I used to handle communication and manage an internal information portal which were accessed by hundreds of internal staff. Often I had to come out with urgent communication emails …..process owners would supply me with bits and pieces of information and somehow I would able to piece all this together in a piece of email that flowed naturally and easy for my staff to understand. Also, due to budgeting constraints, I often had to run my information portals on very basic software and I was always able to find a way to make them functional.
Heck, once I actually run an information portal using basic html codes written on an online notepad before they agree to switch to Joomla platform! But I made it functional and find a way to benefit my staff.
My point is, creativity is a flow, it involves a natural state of flow in the mind. It is not about being able to draw or illustrate or write the most profound music pieces. Creativitiy is also a survival skill and it makes us adaptable and ‘flow’ naturally within life’s changing situations.
Sadly, I strongly feel even to this day this was suppressed in my late dad- he was gifted in language articulation since he worked in the press but the natural flow which I felt he had it within in was cut off.
So, please don’t force your child to switch if they are leftties
Today, I do not feel there is social stigma surrounding a left handed person. In fact with changing times, people hand also commented that left handed people tend to be more intelligent. Well, I definitely did not do well academically…. I find I survive better in the real world than in school.
I think nowadays a lot of tools cater for both left and right handed people. But when I was growing up, things like peelers and scissors had to be used with the right hand. I still had to peel fruits using my right hand. And when in public, I don’t think people care anymore what hand we use to eat but if I am in a Malay or Indian function where people used their hand to eat, I would use my right hand out of respect.
Generally most lefties have learned to be more adaptable. I’ve even learned to write a little using my right hand. I’ve had the time to practice when my boss made me go to boring meetings or courses…. and what I would do is I would practice writing ‘the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog‘ repeatedly on my book, a verse that contains all the alphabets from A to Z. With the number of mind numbing meetings that I went to, I’ve had enough of practice and can also write with my right hand to save my life.
And in case anyone’s wondering what hand is used by the left hander for ‘unclean tasks’ after relieving ourselves in the toilet, it really depends. I have asked a few left handed Malay friends and they would use their right hand to eat and for ‘unclean tasks’, they would use their left hand. But some would use their right hand since no one is watching.