Saturday, March 21, 2009

Are We Not All Left-Handed?

All the jokes about 10 types of people aside, looking at the human species as a whole it's fairly obvious, even to the untrained observer, that there are fundamentally two types of people. For the sake of our discussion here, we will assign these types random variables: let's call them Type X and Type Y. (Some people claim there's a third type, who are biologically X but consider themselves Y, or vice versa, but we'll dismiss those claims offhand: these so-called "third types" are simply suffering from X/Y confusion.)

Biology affirms this simple division into Type X and Type Y on every level, from basic daily functions to certain cognitive, linguistic, and personality correlates of the divide. For example, Type X individuals tend to be more creative, and use both sides of the brain better, while Type Y individuals tend to rely more on the left side of the brain, home of logical, analytical thinking. Other differences are too numerous to list here, but, all in all, they affirm the unique natures of Types X and Y, and, moreover, how those types are different, distinctive, and complementary. It therefore follows that belonging to one of these types must be an essential pre-mortal characteristic, part of an individual's divine nature and destiny: God created us in his image, right-handed and left-handed.

Since the fall, human society has misinterpreted the true relationship between left-handers and right-handers, with the latter type unquestionably privileged: they have held all the power, made all the decisions, and designed all the manual implements, while left-handers have, for the most part, remained marginalized and powerless. Parents have actively hoped not to bear left-handed children, and this poor Type X has been seen as inherently less valuable or righteous, even in Christian societies. The Bible, for instance, focuses primarily on right-handed characters, consistently affirming God's love for and approval of them, whereas left-handed characters appear only infrequently and, as often as not, cast in a negative light. Through the ages, and across cultures, left-handed individuals have been closely associated with witchcraft and the devil, and there are instances of these individuals being burned at the stake simply due to the bad luck of having been born left-handed. These historical biases towards right-handed remain encoded in ordinary language, and even though we may strive to make our modern language use more sensitive and less handist, we may not even be aware of the histories of words like 'sinister' or 'gauche.'

In today's church, of course, we do not condone this cultural and historical baggage of the X/Y divide, but just the same, we do not condone entirely erasing the divide. The modern movements which claim that the virtue of equality requires a homogenization of all relationships are misguided. In the worldly philosophies of the equality of handedness, which encourages left-handers to abandon their traditional roles of sitting around helplessly and pursue such traditional right-handed pursuits as using scissors or running for president, our society has only found confusion, unhappiness, and the breakdown of all our most important institutions, like homogeneity of desk orientation in elementary school classrooms. Left-handers are equal, but they must stay separate.

Some argue that this emphasis on handed roles in the Church leads to functional inequity between the types, using as evidence the fact that the vast majority of Church leaders are right-handed, or that the Church has not only not repudiated scriptures like Matthew 25:33, which support the traditional association of right with righteousness and left with wickedness, but also incorporated the symbolism of these scriptures into sacred gospel ordinances, namely taking the sacrament. Those who argue this way are on the road to apostasy. Right-handers don't run the church just because of millennia of cultural and historical bias against left-handers, or because they are inherently more righteous or more beloved of God, despite what the scriptures seem to suggest, but because they are actually less righteous. Left-handers are not just equal to right-handers, they are superior! Left-handers can do what right-handers can never do, not in all eternity: their sacred ability to write Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, without getting their hands smudged with ink, is the greatest of all divine missions, a sacred stewardship that right-handers could never hope to aspire to. A proper understanding of the role of the left-handers, and the nobility to be found within it, will bring peace and purpose to the lives of all those who embrace it.


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Hannah and Her Scissors

A very clever friend of mine once wrote a parody of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land that began "February is the shortest month." Hilarious as the parody was--if I remember correctly, some of the footnotes were in Swedish--I mostly think about it in the context of the February blues, and how grateful I am that it is the shortest month.  I'm tough and all, but 28 days of that is about my limit.  

Most years, the February blues hit with a general malaise, a sort of mid-winter blah, in which I want to, as another friend put it, declare life bankruptcy until...well, until April, frankly: the worst part of February is that the light at the end of the tunnel is March. 

This February what I had was not so much malaise as mania, not so much a lack of sunshine and warmth as an outpour of it, in this unseasonably warm and dry winter, which I can't enjoy at all due to a life that is nothing but work work WORK.  This February would be best experienced as a montage: no one wants to live those individual days of waking up before dawn to study; or of being in charge of a conference and so running from room to room to plug in electrical equipment, take out trash, unlock doors, and set out snacks; or of a long drive to Bakersfield for even longer sitting around chatting aimlessly when there's WORK to be done; or of days of eight hours of class in a row; or of, I don't know, all those other boring aspects of responsible adulthood: dishes, sweeping, grocery shopping, and trying desperately to get enough sleep to function. 

I fight the February blues in the same way every year, and this year was no exception. One Thursday afternoon about two weeks ago, I couldn't take it anymore.  I got up from my desk, packed up my stuff, jumped on my bike, and stopped at the first haircut place I found, which turned out to be a tiny, Vietnamese-run family shop down the street from my house.   I sat down in the chair and described what I wanted ("short") to the lady, who nodded at everything and started cutting. As we made small talk, mostly me asking questions about Vietnam, it quickly became clear to me that she didn't understand my English, but was simply giving responses to what my questions might be: "My village is in northern Vietnam," to "do you live around here?" and "I started cutting hair when I was little" to "when did you come to America?"

If she doesn't understand those questions, I slowly realized, she certainly didn't understand my directions.  I wondered, briefly, while watching her snip away, whether this should worry me, but then decided that, after my college years of cutting my hair myself, on a whim, using paper scissors and no mirror, I probably shouldn't care about what a professional decides. 

The professional's decision was fine, even decently cute--though I did have to fix the back a little bit, again with my paper scissors--so now my hair is short short short again, vaguely Sound of Music, and I was, as usual, surprised at everyone else's surprise--didn't they know that this is my real hair, the haircut of my soul? Didn't they know that the shorter my hair is, the happier I am? And didn't they know it was February?  They don't call it the shortest month for nothing.