The stigma of left handedness and lessons from the story of Bisola Mariam Obinyan

Bisola ´s story

I was about eight years old when an uncle came visiting. As soon as he came into the house, he looked at me with disdain, because I had approached him, stretching out my left hand to pick his bag.

He rebuked me sharply: ‘‘Bisola, you are really disrespectful, and your mom didn’t train you well.” He remarked, as he breezed past me into the house. I was silent and my cheerful disposition suddenly became gloomy. I just couldn’t get it. At that age, I couldn’t understand what left-handedness had to do with being disrespectful and uncultured. This was the beginning of my struggle as a left-hander.  This was what I had to deal with at home, as my mother struggled in vain to ensure I switched hands and not embarrass her again in public.

I thought had seen it all, until I began to experience the same stigmatization all through school. I always sat at the back of the class because I wasn’t motivated, and I wanted to stay away from the persistent scrutiny of harsh teachers. I never had the luxury of a kind teacher who would encourage me…..even if only with kind words. Furthermore, the school frequently reported me to my mother for my left handedness – in a way that was more of a reproach. And she also felt small and guilty somewhat, like it was her fault and she was a failure as a mother.

Subsequently, the teachers concluded I was stubborn and rebellious for not being willing to change my left-handedness. School was therefore a hellish experience and it was no surprise that my grades were consistently poor. Expectations were low and I had no motivation to learn. Thus, it became like a self-fulfilling prophecy that I would not do well.

Thus, I was a struggling and remained an average pupil for several years. My greatest sadness was that any time I didn’t do well at given tasks, it was instantly ascribed to my lefthandedness. As I grew older, I consciously started trying to overcompensate by ensuring that there was no basis to point accusing fingers at my left-handedness. Ultimately, my efforts and hardwork finally yielded dividends and I secured admission into a prestigious university. When I finally received my admission letter as well as a scholarship offer, I was really excited. So, I hopefully proved in the end that my left-handedness did not affect my chances at success in life. I can do anything, if I put my mind to it. I am not a failure after all.

 

Discussion

Medically, we know that handedness is a function of the specialized nature of the two parts (hemispheres) of our brain, the right hemisphere and the left hemisphere. One part (usually the left part) is specialized for fine skills such as writing, speech e.t.c; and is known as the dominant hemisphere. Each part of the brain controls the opposite side of the body. So, in the majority of humans (90%), our left brain is dominant, which allows us to be able to use our right hands for specialized skills. In the remaining 10 per cent or so, the right brain is dominant and so they are left handed. A small proportion of individuals can skilfully utilize both hands and are referred to as ambidextrous.

Thus, from the foregoing explanation, it is clear that it is purely a difference of anatomy and there is absolutely no basis for the shaming and stigmatization of innocent young children as we see in the story of Bisola Mariam Obinyan. She has gone ahead to document her story and experiences in the form of a book titled the `The Unseen Scars of Stigma.

The mental health consequences of bullying children and trying to force them to switch their handedness, as well as making them feel inferior or evil can be far-reaching. They range from pervasive feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse to emotional trauma that may be lifelong in some instances. Yet, we know that a significantly high proportion of left-handed individuals have been high achievers with successful careers across all spheres of human endeavour.

This article is in commemoration of the International Lefthanders Day, August 13th every year. And it is aimed at encouraging all left-handers out there, to own their story and be proud of their nature, without shame or stigma. I hope teachers and parents will also learn from the true life story of Bisola Mariam Obinyan and the challenges she faced in every facet of life – both at home and at school because of her left-handedness. She deserves plaudits for sharing her story in a bid to encourage others. Because ultimately, when we know better, we should do better.

 

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