This isn’t really a column about political views, but that’s not to say politics won’t make an appearance.
Aug. 13, in case you missed it, was International Lefthanders’ Day. It’s not exactly a major holiday – actually not a holiday of any level – but we southpaws have to appreciate any little opportunity for recognition.
Statistics suggest about 10% of the population is left-handed, for no obvious reason. Genetics appears to play some role but is not determinative. Even two left-handed parents have only a one in four chance of producing left-handed children.
Society rarely encourages left-handedness: We live in a right-handed world, and lefties are expected to either adapt or switch. My mother was born left-handed, but her first grade teacher rapped her knuckles when she picked up a pencil with her left hand. Like many others, she was forced to conform to a belief that only right is right.
Perhaps my penmanship would be better if I’d been compelled to become a righty. Having to push a pencil or pen and then drag one’s hand across the fresh graphite or ink results in smudges that further obscures what is usually a sub-par script.
Which is not to say that right-handers are incapable of producing illegible script.
One reason I like Hebrew is that it’s written from right to left: My Hebrew handwriting is far better than my English.
We know that, in general, the right hemisphere of the brain controls the left side, and vice versa, so lefties like to claim that we’re the only ones in our right minds.
I once heard a neuroscientist cite evidence that lefties who turn their hands upside down when writing (as I do) have greater access to both sides of their brain, being able to harness both creativity and logic.
That thought gives me comfort when I struggle to cut wrapping paper with right-handed scissors.
Southpaws play a couple of bit parts in the Bible. Left-handed Ehud, my favorite judge, famously sparked a revolution that delivered Israel from the Moabites by assassinating their overweight king Eglon (whose name means “fatted calf”).
Ehud managed the feat by securing a big double-edged dagger with no hilt to his right thigh rather than the expected left side. After paying tribute, he arranged an audience with the king, who happened to be in his upstairs bathroom. The crafty lefty claimed to be delivering a message from God when he stabbed Eglon from belly to heart, leaving the full blade inside as the king’s intestinal contents poured out.
Ehud then locked the door behind him, leaving the guards to assume the resulting smell meant the king was still on the toilet. The story is violent, but hilarious from the Hebrew point of view (Judges 3:12-30).
Ehud was from the tribe of Benjamin, which was famous for its left-handed warriors. An ugly story in Judges 20 says the Benjaminite army included 700 left-handed warriors who could sling a stone at a hair without missing (Judges 20:16). A story in 1 Chronicles 12:2 describes some Benjaminites who supported David as being able to shoot bows or sling stones equally well with either hand.
We don’t know if Benjaminites were genetically predisposed to being southpaws or if they were encouraged to develop left-handed skills as an advantage in battle.
I suspect the narrator just enjoyed the notion of left-handed Benjaminites. In Hebrew, “Benjamin” means “son of the right hand,” so the notion of a left-handed son-of-the-right-hand was entertaining.
No one in the New Testament admitted to being left-handed.
Biblical Hebrew, by the way, had no dedicated word for left-handedness. Being right-handed was normal, so the odd lot were described as “restricted in the right hand.”
At least it’s better than Latin, which apparently considered left-handedness to be a shady, if not downright evil, trait. Our word “sinister” is from the Latin sinistra, which carried both meanings.
Thinking about such things led me to wonder why conservative and progressive thought came to be described as “right” and “left.”
It turns out the distinction goes back to the French Revolution. In 1879, as political dissension mounted in the National Assembly, loyalists who wanted to keep the status quo congregated on the king’s right side, leaving those who favored change to occupy seats on his left.
Benjaminites could be a lefties-sons-of-righties, and progressives can be a lefties-who-believe-they’re-right.
Isn’t language fun?
In any case, whether we lean left or right, it’s important to lean on our would-be king and his enablers to oppose his obvious and continuing efforts to suppress potentially opposing votes in the upcoming election.
Every citizen should have easy access to secure voting.
It’s only right.