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Three Lefts Don't Make A Right

Three Lefts Don’t Make a Right

By Kirsten Hubbard

I don’t know my right from my left.

Schoolteachers knotted red yarn ’round my wrist as a reminder. As I drove, my high school besties would yell from the back seat, “Take a 100 at the next light,” using the speedometer for navigation.

I embraced 0 and 100. Why learn arbitrary words when we already have a perfectly fine number line? The problems we could solve, I would argue, if we weren’t spending brain power on left and right!

Until being asked to define “right” gave me pause and I more deeply pondered the word’s meaning.

I started with an old-school dictionary gifted by Rotary to my son. What a layered, nuanced word I found: “good, proper, just; fact, reason, truth, standard, principle; correct; that which is due by just claim, legal guarantees, moral principle; straight; direct; quite; completely.”

Truly opposite, left really has only one meaning: “closest to the heart.”

I considered how left and right are ingrained in our traditions. Hardly arbitrary, they are steeped in symbolism, with left personifying individuality and right community.

Our heart, our essence, beats on the left side of our body. Facing others when we teach, salute, kiss, or speak, our heart’s rhythm cadences to their right.

We raise our right hand to swear in court, promising truth to our community.

Individual defendants sit to the left, while the prosecutors, representing the community, sit to the right.

Politically, left is associated with democrat, a French term meaning power to common individuals. Right is associated with republicanism, with its root meaning society.

In the army, nameplates are worn on the left, the American flag on the right. The military codifies the placement of the flag as a reminder of duty to uphold the rights of all.

In Christian tradition, Mary, who gave life to The One, sits to the left of God and is often portrayed with a heart. Jesus, who gave life to many, sits to the right.

Left is associated with our personal truth, while right is associated with how we convey that truth to others. Left is our internalness, right our outward actions.

But I fear we have lost our direction—we have lost the separateness and relationship of left and right. We have come to the critical misunderstanding that our lefts make us right—that our beliefs, our ideology, our intelligence make us correct, correct enough to act wrong. That our internal beliefs are so right they justify propagating hate. That our political ideology is so right we are given leave to degrade others. That our intellect is so right we are empowered to bully.

Martin Luther King Jr. could have been Muslim and led the same right actions. Muhammad Ali could have been Christian and led the same right actions. Both brought honor to their left, their internal why, because of their right, their actions. Their beliefs informed their actions, but a belief, on its own, is not right. That is not a judgment statement on a particular belief, but because right is how we portray our belief to our community.

And that is where we have made wrong a turn. We argue over family dinners, propagate ignorance and hate on social media, because we are confusing our left from our right. Entire industries are enriched by feeding our left to believe it is right enough to justify wrong.

So my right is to find teachers to knot red yarn ’round my wrist and besties to yell compass points from the back seat to ensure I know my left from right. If I can finally learn, we all can.

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