It’s not easy being left-handed in Indonesia and we lefties learn it the hard way.
When I just started school, my teachers were not happy that I was using my left hand to write. They expressed their concerns to my parents, who told them that I had been using my left hand since I held my first crayons. Yes, they had tried to teach me to use my right hand, but they found out that my left hand was more dominant. Once I was even taken to a doctor to fix this “problem”, but the doctor told my parents not to force me to change my dominant hand, and to accept my left-handedness.
I am thankful that my parents are not ashamed that I’m a lefty, and that they accept me as I am. Because some parents never do.
In Indonesia, traditional and religious beliefs influence the perception and treatment of left-handed people. “Using the left hand is impolite” is one of the most common sayings that reinforce this discrimination against left-handed people. The left hand gets a bad rep as the bad hand, the one you use to wipe yourself after using the bathroom.
When I was a little, a neighbor would always ask me where my good hand was before giving me a gift. Of course he was talking about the right hand. Even to this day, at primary school a pupil may not be allowed to enter class if he refuses to use his right hand. Parents upset about or shamed by the discrimination may then force their kids to change their dominant hands. All of these can have a deleterious impact on a child mental and psychological development, affecting their confidence and their performance at school.
If society wants to find a scapegoat for the lefties, they should blame it on genetics. If you are a leftie, chances are someone in your family tree is also one. In my family, I know only of two lefties: my uncle and I. But while my uncle uses his left hand only for writing, I use my left hand for almost all activities. My parents have taught me from young, however, that I must use my right hand when interacting with others. I have learned from very young to always use my right hand when shaking people’s hands, and when handing and accepting objects from others.
Studies show that only 10 percent of the world’s population is left-handed, which explains why they are considered anomalies. But many of this 10 percent are famous people. Some names include US President Barrack Obama, legendary musicians Paul McCartney and Jimmy Hendrix, actress Sarah Jessica Parker, famous South Korean actor Kim Soo Hyun, and pop star Justin Bieber.
Perhaps these famous lefties somewhat improve Indonesians’ perception of left-handed people. Some people even think that left-handed people are cooler – or smarter – than right-handed people, because they’re different (and there are studies showing that left-handed people’s brains are structured differently in a way that increases their range of abilities).
For the most part, however, being left-handed is still frowned on in Indonesia. Parents still force their lefty children to change their dominant hand. Someone I know told me that one of his most painful experiences was when he was asked to write on the whiteboard in front of his class. As he began to write with his left hand, his classmates yelled at him to use his right hand, so he did, resulting in unreadable writing.
Even to this day, I still get “harassed” for being a lefty. At a family dinner, a relative scolded me for being rude because I used my left hand to eat. In fact, this is one of the most common reactions we lefties get. But topping the list of the most irritating question asked to a lefty is: “Which hand do you use to clean up yourself after using the bathroom?”
Some left-handed people told me they would rather not answer that question. I prefer to reply to them, saying that I use my right hand to clean up myself. Because, obviously, left-handed people use their right hand for cleaning in the bathroom, since they eat with right hand. But people’s reactions when I told them this were usually one of disgust, which offend me even more.
Indonesians need to accept and treat lefties more kindly. Parents must educate themselves on raising left-handed children, instead of forcing them to change their dominant hand. Being left-handed is not a shame.
To my fellow lefties who are tired of being harassed or discriminated against, remember what Taylor Swift said: “If you are lucky enough to be different, don’t ever change!”
Tobias Kawatu is left-handed man who is passionate about communication and literature. He spends a lot of time writing and watching movies. Sometimes he travels to find new experiences.