Like over 90% of the world, I am right-handed. Actually, I am a suppressed lefty, not in the ideological sense but in the physiological. There are many theories on why the human race is overwhelmingly right-handed. Some say it is based on how we were positioned in the womb. If the right side faces outside, this theory posits, it receives the most light, sound and stimulation—the proverbial people touching the pregnant woman’s stomach. All this stimulation to the right side will turn you into a left-handed person.
Paul Broca, a 19th century French neurologist, whose name happens to be one of the 72 names inscribed on the Eiffel Tower, made a celebrated pronouncement. “We are right-handed,” he said, “because we are left-brained.” Of course, Broca would say that, given that he discovered a speech centre in the left hemisphere of the brain that ended up being named after him—Broca’s area. A century later, German anthropologist Robert Hertz upturned Broca’s theory. He said, “We are left-brained because we are right-handed.” Now, this might sound like tautology, but it is actually a deeply felt critique of the human race. Hertz—like Benjamin Franklin, who wrote a spirited defence of the left hand—believed that choosing one dominant hand (the right) has caused all kinds of problems for humanity.
For one thing, this ubiquitous dependence on the right hand caused humans to adopt left-brain thinking, which is more dualistic than holistic. We divide the world into good and evil, right and wrong, black and white. Had we encouraged ambidexterity, perhaps we as a species would have been more intuitive, compassionate and open to our feelings, somewhat like ancient tribal societies—pygmies, aborigines, bushmen and other ancient inhabitants of South Africa—with a higher proportion of left-handedness.
For our purposes, using the non-dominant hand should be a worthwhile goal. Most of us go through life unconsciously using the hand we are comfortable with. Using the non-dominant hand, however, has fascinating repercussions, according to recent research. It not only improves willpower and self-control, it opens up aspects of the brain we are not in touch with.
As Lucia Capacchione describes in her book, The Power Of Your Other Hand: A Course In Channeling The Inner Wisdom Of The Right Brain, simply writing or drawing with your non-dominant hand will fuel your imagination, inspire childlike imagery and open up parts of your personality that have long been suppressed. I have started doing this on my iPad, using free apps such as 53, Sketch and Adobe MeMo Pad. It is somewhat hard to use my left hand, but it also fires different neurons and works different muscles.
What do you do when you confront the door? If you happen to be a lefty, you reach out with your left hand, right? What if you forced yourself to slow down, think, and use your non-dominant hand? The effort involved in using your non-dominant hand equalizes the brain hemispheres and evens out your temperament. If you fly into a rage, try using your non-dominant hand throughout the day. It may help you to calm down. It could be simple things: stirring a cup of tea, opening the car door, or brushing your teeth—all with your non-dominant hand.
Shoba Narayan is a suppressed lefty who now thinks she is ambidextrous. Write to her with your tips, tricks and short cuts. She blogs at Shobanarayan.com, tweets at @shobanarayan and Instagrams at #shobanarayan.