Have you ever heard the saying that “only left-handed people are in their right mind”? While this humorous phrase is perhaps a bit of a poke at the majority of “righties,” there’s a bit of truth there. For those who are left-handed, the right hemisphere of the brain controls their hand movements and coordination, while right-handed people have their movements controlled by the left hemisphere.
A Well-Studied Minority
The number of people in the right-handed majority is usually estimated at between 85–90 percent,1 but this number is often disputed due to several factors. Some countries still actively discourage left-handedness, and the small percentage of people who are functionally ambidextrous may be classified as right-handed.2
If you survey the scientific literature, you quickly recognize that there has been much study of handedness. Whether you are looking at neurology, social science, mathematics, or even psychology journals, it is nearly impossible to count the number of studies looking at this issue. Many of the studies examine the benefits or detriments to being left-handed in thinking, problem-solving3, or creativity. The results of one such study reportedly showed that left-handed people are better at solving more complex mathematical problems.4
Formed in the Womb
But how does handedness develop in the first place, and why aren’t all humans the same? A study from 2017 revealed a surprising twist to handedness. It showed that hand preference develops in the womb as early as 18 weeks.5 This study found that by examining hand movements of babies in the womb via ultrasound, scientists could predict with remarkable accuracy whether the baby would be right- or left-handed. They looked at three types of hand movements, to the eyes, to the mouth, and to the uterine wall, and also recorded the speed for each action by each hand.6 These observations yielded an 89–100% prediction rate on whether the baby would be left- or right-handed later in life. The two most important hand movements in determining handedness were those toward the eyes and the mouth.7 Several previous studies (too numerous to mention) had only focused on hand preference in regard to thumb-sucking in the womb, and the results were not as robust. Medical science and technology is just beginning to peer into that which God already knows:
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them. (Psalm 139:16).
Indeed we are all formed in the womb—fearfully and wonderfully made!
Those of us who are right-handed may not be able to appreciate that many of the tools, utensils, toys, and instruments we use and enjoy are designed specifically for righties. But for those who are left-handed, that design becomes a hurdle that they often must overcome, or else they must seek out (often expensive) custom-made items specifically designed for lefties. Some common examples would be scissors, cameras, smart phones, archery bows, golf clubs, and many musical instruments. One extreme example is the violin, which until recently was almost never manufactured for lefties. So a left-handed violinist would have to train to use the bow with their non-dominant hand. While fingering is done with the left hand, it is the bow hand that is more critical in producing the complex, beautiful strains we associate with the instrument.8
My daughter Heather, who is left-handed, shared some other examples of “right-handed bias” that she must overcome:
- Using a school desk and chair
- Having words smudge when writing (lefties curl their hand when writing to avoid ink and graphite smears all over their hand)
- Having people unnecessarily commenting and comparing her to another who is also left-handed
- Actually being called a witch simply for being left-handed
- Trying to copy someone’s movements when they are trying to demonstrate how to build, fix, or teach something mechanical or artistic
- Demonstrating something for right handers and having to show them over and over
- Trying to use a standard computer mouse and keyboard
- Bumping arms with others while eating at a table
- Learning to play the guitar right-handed
- Using a fork and knife (and being ridiculed while doing so)
- Trying to cut in straight lines with right-handed scissors
As these comments show, left-handed people face several challenges, often because things are manufactured for the majority of people who will use them—righties. And things designed for lefties are often more expensive or harder to find. In some cases, things must be special-ordered because they are not “in stock” on the shelf of many stores. In other cases, it is simply people being careless or even cruel with their interactions with left-handed people.
When we turn to the Bible, Scripture references a couple of left-handed men, interestingly both from the tribe of Benjamin. Ehud, one of the judges of Israel that God raised up to deliver the nation from the Moabites, was left-handed (Judges 3:15–30), and indeed he took advantage of his left-handedness to accomplish his mission. The tribe of Benjamin also had a 700-man elite group of left-handed sling-throwers who were very skilled and were said to never miss their target (Judges 20:16). In the New Testament one of the passages mistakenly used to justify a negative attitude toward left-handed people is Matthew 25:41 where Jesus tells the people gathered on his left hand that they are cursed and destined for everlasting fire. But this passage is not speaking about left-handedness—it is demonstrating that those who revealed uncaring and selfish actions were opposed to Christ and his people.
Terminology That’s Skewed Toward the Right-Handed
Unfortunately, even the terminology we use to denote left-handedness can be subconsciously biased. You have probably heard the term sinistral before (from the Latin sinistra or sinister), which is the usual medical term used for left-handed (or left-eyed).9 Right-handed (or right-eyed) people are called dextral. So when we hear those terms we might link them to such positive things as “dexterous” or negative things like “sinister.” The Latin word began to take on the connotation of “unlucky” and this carried over when the word was incorporated into the Old French word senestral.10 The English language has incorporated some of the French words that carried similar positive and negative meanings. Adroit (from the French à droit, meaning “according to the right”) means skilled or nimble,11 while gauche (same in French, meaning “left”) means “crude” or “uncultured.”12
But those aren’t the only negative connotations for left-side dominant traits. Left-footed skateboarders are called “goofy,”13 left-handed boxers (and writers) are called “southpaws,” and of course we have numerous “jabs” at lefties with terms like “left-handed compliment” (meaning an insult disguised as a compliment), two left-feet and two left-thumbs (both of which signify clumsiness) and “out of left field” (which basically means poorly-timed, odd, or strange).
That’s Rather Sporting of You
Of course there are also current positive associations, many in sports. Left-handed pitchers (especially starters and closers), because they are rare, are in high-demand, and often may command higher salaries. Switch hitters, or left-handed pinch hitters, are also rare, and such specialty players are coveted (but left-handed catchers have a distinct disadvantage in throwing out runners. They are rare, but not sought after.)14 Left-handed boxers also seem to be at an advantage in the ring,15 and other sports such as bowling, fencing, and cricket seem to offer an advantage to left-handed players due to either court conditions or their competitors’ inexperience with playing left-handed players.16
One Race, One Blood, Two Handed Types
But ultimately, left-handedness is just another physical trait that (although a minority in the population) is still shared by millions of people, like red hair, green eyes, or a cleft chin (as opposed to the more common black hair, brown eyes, and non-dimpled chin). In reality, none of these traits make us substantially different from one another genetically. As we have mentioned in several articles, especially in the context of skin shade, we are all one race. We are all descended from Adam, and all of us, whether right- or left-handed, are “sinister.” We are all sinners in need of a Savior, and God, in his mercy, has provided a remedy for our sin. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus is the remedy. Rather than demeaning those who are different, we should recognize that God has uniquely created each of us. Each person is made in the image of God; therefore each person has worth and value.
For those of us who are right-handed, consider how difficult it is to do tasks with your opposite hand. In many cases, left-handed people are better at this than righties, simply because necessity has forced a degree of ambidexterity upon them. But it only takes a few minutes to realize that as humans, we have many physical weaknesses. As an object lesson in empathy, try throwing a ball, eating, or writing with your opposite hand, and you can quickly understand this principle. Instead of viewing differences as abnormal, a source of humor, or evil, we should understand that all humans, whether righties or lefties, have been created by God and we complement each other. As Christians, we should be especially careful not to demean others, but “
if possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).