“She can’t play this guitar you sold us.” The young father stood at the counter and held the pretty blue 3/4 size guitar out to me, the anxious little girl looking on. I glanced at the guitar, but saw no obvious defect. Turning my eyes back with a quizzical expression on my face, I started to ask for an explanation, but he spoke before I could. “Oh, there’s nothing wrong with the guitar. It’s just that my little girl is left-handed and you sold us a right-handed guitar.” The light came on for me and I began to talk a bit more intelligently, as I explained the options available to rectify the problem. It’s not the first time this has happened.
Before I go any further, I’m wondering…have you ever been in a situation where you felt like you didn’t belong? I’ve felt like that more times than I care to admit. I grew up being socially backward in many ways. There’s no blame to place; it’s just that we didn’t have opportunity to experience a lot of situations that many others of my generation did. Because of that, many times even as an adult, I have felt like a fish out of water. As I prepared to write this post, I spent a little while researching the various phrases we use to express the idea of being different, or being odd. We use them all the time in conversation and you’ll see them in quotes throughout this little essay. “Fish out of water” was one of those phrases, with the picture of a small marine animal lying on the banks of a river gasping for oxyg…no…gasping for water. For the poor fish, the life giving gaseous material all around us on dry land is deadly; his breathing apparatus poorly suited for our environment. I wonder if the fish have a saying about humans out of air? Well, you get the picture. And, you’ve probably been there, gasping for the chance to be somewhere else, as you suffer through a situation in which you’re extremely uncomfortable.
For various reasons, some people go through life like that, dealing with being the “odd man out“, the “fifth wheel“. The little left-handed girl reminded me of that today. She will deal with that handicap (yeah I know; it’s not politically correct to call it a handicap) for all of her life. Scissors will not fit her hand; she may write in a backhand to be able to read what she’s writing, since we form our letters the wrong direction for a southpaw; salespersons (like me) will hand her a pen to sign a receipt, aiming it for her right hand out of habit; the car she drives will have controls on the right side of the steering wheel…the list will go on for all of her life.
The sad thought that also occurs to me is this: She doesn’t need to be the “oddball” in this particular situation. When it comes to playing the guitar, this young lady has the advantage of all the right-handed folks who ever aspired to play the six-string music box. You see, the guitar is ideally suited for a left-handed player just the way it’s designed. For most players, the process of learning to play a guitar is torture, making them learn motor skills that have never been demanded of their non-dominant paw before. The reason is that most of the dexterity demanded to play the guitar is in the left hand, which is the hand that rests on the neck of the guitar, forming chords, moving quickly through scale patterns, or sliding from fret to fret in hammer-ons and pull-offs. The left hand. I’ve had this discussion time and time again, finally giving up when faced with the emotional student or helpful parent, knowing that it’s an argument I’m destined to lose, every time. I’ve searched for an answer to the questions this raises, but to no avail. It appears that the mind of the left-handed person had been conditioned to assume that all activities will have to be accomplished in a mirror-image to those in the majority in this world. Therefore, when the lefty sees a guitar being played by most players slung to the left side and being fingered with the left hand, they assume that they will have to play it the opposite way. The difficulty they encounter in learning to play chords and scales (a difficulty all students will have, incidentally) only reinforces the belief that they cannot learn to play the “right-handed” instrument. Any arguments to the contrary notwithstanding, they won’t learn to play the instrument unless it’s set up the opposite way.
I made the necessary changes to the guitar for the little girl. She was excited and grateful when she came in with her daddy to pick up the transformed instrument. Once again, I was struck with the lesson of how our brains and emotions work against us. If we are taught, either by words or by repetition of action, that we don’t fit, it’s amazingly difficult for us to buck the conditioning. As I experience frequently, it will always feel wrong to be in those situations and we’ll be as “awkward as a bull in a china shop”. The bright spot in facing this issue is that as adults, we can make a conscious choice. We can retreat and stay out of uncomfortable settings, or we can make a decision to overcome those false fears and enjoy being a part of the culture in which we live.
As I write, I’m struck with one more thought. In some ways, we are the “odd man out”, if we’re followers of the ultimate non-conformist. He told us that we are not of this world, that He has chosen us. I’m pretty sure there are some situations in which we are uncomfortable because we don’t belong there. You know the ones I mean. Try as you might, if you belong to Him, you’ll never fit in there. Sometimes, being the one “left out in the cold” isn’t such a bad thing.
So, swim in the water, if you’re a fish. We don’t have to live life “out of our element”. Just make sure that what we think are circumstances beyond our control aren’t really opportunities to grow instead. Sometimes, being “out of our comfort zone” actually makes us better human beings.