Thursday, March 19, 2009

To the Left

How did the word “right” come to mean “good” or “correct?” Is the word “left”, by implication and extension, “wrong?” When one works with ESL students, interesting questions like this always arise! Here’s my perspective on the matter!

Culturally we are biased to favour the right-handed person. We drive and walk on that side. When entering a museum or store, the impulse is usually to head to the right. When men are escorting or dancing with women, they are to offer them their right arm. Most instruments, weapons, computer mouses, cars, scissors and clothes are all designed for people who are right-handed. Politically, conservatives are referred to as the Right. Even the way our we read and write our language is more convenient for the right-handed. In spoken language we say someone is “in the right” when they are justified in a given situation or “way out in left field” when we think don’t agree with their position.

This bias extends to other countries to some extent as well. When I was in Korea, we always offered an empty glass or money with our right hand (or sometimes with both hands together). I’ve already mentioned the use of the left hand in Asia before. Numerous languages equate the world "left" with evil.

So what happens when you are, through no fault of your own, different? That what may seem unnatural to the majority, is naturally expressed in you? My aunt was born this way. At school they forced her to use her right hand instead and to this day her writing is illegible. On the “other hand”, my left-handed uncle, born several years later, was allowed to use his left hand and does quite well.

While we certainly don’t judge a left-handed person as someone is morally deficient, it might surprise you to learn that people used to do this very thing. Something was “wrong” with a person who wasn’t in the “right.”

I find people tend to make the similar judgments and have the same biases towards people who are, also through no fault of their own, different in terms of sexual orientation. What may be natural to the majority, seems unnatural to sexual minorities. In fact the term “queer,” meaning not normal, was also used as a term of derision. Just as with left-handed people, being different than the majority doesn’t necessarily mean one is abnormal, wrong or unnatural.

However despite this logical conclusion, an enormous, staggering amount of money, effort and tears have been spent by well-meaning people to change this condition which most studies have shown to occur naturally in humans, as well as other species. And while this trait may influence brain patterns to a degree ("southpaws" use their right brain more, queers have different brain patterns than hetero-peers), being gay, like being a “lefty” doesn’t necessarily make one a more interesting person. It’s really up to the individual to determine that for their lives. Society is “right” to evaluate a person by the way they chose to live their life but not by the circumstances that merely place them in the minority. That, my dear readers, would be just plain wrong.


Anonymous said...

Wow! As a lefty and equality activist I really appreicate this entry. Well stated. - lena

kayeblue said...

So since I'm a lefty AND queer, do the two cancel each other out and leave me "right" again?? :)