Friday, February 7, 2014

Widdershins Crochet: or, How Handedness (and Difference) Affects Everything

Fig. 1.

I was recently at work and had a free moment, during which I pulled out crochet project I was working on. As I worked, one of my co-workers watched me and commented on my being left-handed. Then she asked me a question. She said her grandson, who was 4, was also left-handed and she was worried about him because he didn't write properly, as she put it. She said he did things like writing a 3 and then a 1 when writing '13'; he would put the numbers in the right order, but she found it upsetting. He would also write the round part of the letter 'b' before drawing the line connecting it, and so on. His handwriting slanted the wrong way too, according to her; it leaned rightward and downward. There were no left-handed people in her family so she wasn't sure what to do about it. She was thinking of forcing him to write with his right hand so that when he went to school he would sen normal to the other students.

Fig. 2.

I told her that while his way of writing numbers was unusual, there wasn't anything wrong with it. As long as the numbers were in the correct order, it didn't matter. And I showed her what a wonderful left-handed teacher had taught me as a child when my words slanted too far downward; namely, to tilt the page slightly towards the left to make it easier to follow the lines on the paper. I still use this method today. Then I showed her my own handwriting, which leans to the right, and explained that there were plenty of famous left-handed people, like my favorite cook, Alton Brown, who found ways to make the world adapt to their needs (Mr. Brown uses knives that are sharpened for a left-hander. When I learned this I resharpened my knives, and cooking has been easier ever since).

Fig. 3.

I doubt my co-worker knew that left-handedness used to be considered a sign of of devil worship in Western Europe, or that to this day, many devout Muslims believe that the left hand should only be reserved for wiping oneself, because the left side is supposed to be evil. I know my mother tried to make me switch hands by slapping me every time I reached for a toy with my left, but I refused to stop, and she gave up.

Fig. 4. 

Of course, most people now think of left-handedness as something  harmless. Most righties would laugh if you said there's a prejudice against lefties. But when I first started teaching myself to crochet, it took me months to find a book showing left-handed crochet technique. I had to find a left-handed teacher to help me learn how to manipulate my hook; the right-handed directions looked strange, and I couldn't make sense of the photos or drawings. Several books actually suggested that left handed crocheters xerox the requisite pages and trace them on the other side. Apparently it was too much trouble for the authors to do this. I still haven't learned how to knit because I haven't had time to track down a left-handed knitter. A right-handed knitter actually told me that I should just 'switch hands.'

Fig. 5. 

Which brings me to the subject of difference. It's easy when the world is made for you to tell others to  behave in a way that doesn't inconvenience you, and to not make waves. I can see how it could become annoying to hear complaints all the time, or to feel like you are perpetually being treated as a bad person. Yet most of us learned all the manners we needed to learn on the playground, and one of the things we learned is to treat people with the same respect with which we want to be treated. It never occurred to my mother what it might feel like to get slapped whenever she reached for something. It obviously didn't occur to my co-worker that just as she lead to tilt her paper to the right in school, tilting her grandson's paper to the left might be a lot more accommodating than shaming him or hitting him.

Fig. 6.

On the playground, we were also taught that it was okay not to like people, but we were supposed to be nice to them anyway. We were taught not to say mean things to people. We were taught to give them the benefit of the doubt unless they proved themselves to not be nice. Some of us were lucky to be told that these lessons were applicable not just to people at our school or in our town, bur everywhere. The rules applied to people who looked different from the people in our families, or behaved differently, or spoke differently.  When my co-worker asked me if she should slap her grandson, I reminded her of the playground rules and she looked sheepish. i also told her that if she did this, she would be teaching him intolerance, and that difference isn't okay.

Fig. 7. 

Right now, we have a lot of people who seem not to have taken the playground rules to heart. There are people who think that people from certain nations should only speak one language; if they do otherwise, that somehow proves they aren't really citizens. There are people who were born in such a way that they find they love other people who look a certain way, and have certain body parts, or certain skin colors, or are of a certain size. And some of them think that anyone who doesn't feel as they do should be sent away, or killed, or changed, or made to stay away from children.  There are people who can't seem to understand that when someone is born or raised in a way that is different from the norm, that person can be just as good, kind, moral and thoughtful as others, and that person has needs that need to be met and qualities that are meant to be shared. It's painful to know that i've worked alongside people who would have thought it was okay for my parents to hit me with a wooden spoon because of how I held a crayon or a cup of milk, when my way of holding something didn't hurt my parents or even affect them.

Fig. 8.

However, in the case of my co-worker, she was wise enough to ask a left-handed person what to do instead of keeping silent. She had a feeling that maybe she was wrong, but she needed to ask for another opinion.  I'd say that's pretty smart.  Because of the lessons I learned from being a different sort of child (short, brown, left-handed, sickly), I try to ask people questions when I'm not sure my thinking is right.  Maybe we should all encourage others to do the same.

Fig. 9.

All illustrations from Crochet Australia

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