Let’s get this out in the open right from the start. 10-25% of people (depending on where you source the stats) cannot immediately tell their left from their right. I am one of them. There is no correlation of lack of side awareness with side dominance, intelligence, gender, age, race, environment or womb exposure. A search of the medical literature is unfruitful and depressing, containing reports of communities (eg Uganda) where teachers are still trying to get lefthanders to write with their right.
I do have familial sinistrality, a fancy and rather frightening term for the presence of left-handedness in one’s close relatives. Not in my ancestry though (all righthanders); my daughter and my sister’s daughter are lefties (fathers are righthanders). Weird, isn’t it?
There is no branding of lefthanded people as sinister or cacky-handed in our house, however. I don’t even notice lefthanders, I can’t tell sides at all. Just be glad I only drive here in Australia; I couldn’t bring myself to get behind a wheel in Canada or the US – I’d probably have to drive in reverse to feel comfortable on the roads over there. (There’s an idea….)
I navigate by landmarks. “Turn just past the BP servo” “Drive towards the ocean” “Go up that hill and turn two streets after that shop over there” Nary a sided directive anywhere. Saying “shall I turn right here?” just confuses me.
You would think that on the road (or in the air if you’re a pilot) would be the most dangerous place to be directionally challenged. No. The most dangerous place is in surgery. The people who prepare you for an operation, especially on a limb, need to be able to get the side correct. When someone points and says ” Is this the right side?” what do they mean? Is it on the right side? or is it the right side for the operation? When told the operation is on the left side, is that the patients left or the doctor’s left as he faces the patient? The operation becomes positively fraught with danger. The consequences of getting it wrong are dire, especially if it’s an amputation. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t use the Aussie colloquialism “She’ll be ‘right.”
A orthopaedic surgeon friend had to undergo a hip arthroscopy himself and he wrote all over his own torso in indelible marking pen. “This side.” “Not this side.” If he doesn’t trust his own colleagues, why should we?
Disclaimer: I am not a surgeon, I just hang out with them at work.