Point the Thumb Before You Point the Finger

By Jimmy Warden

The title to this post is actually a saying that my high school basketball coach, Mike McVeigh, always mentioned whenever someone was looking to blame somebody else for something they did. Coach, with his six foot four inch frame, deep voice, and large pointing finger, would say this at least several times each season in our team’s huddle whenever we needed a good kick in the rear. As he was pointing his finger around the huddle he’d say, “You know guys, before you point the finger at someone else, you need to point the thumb”, and then he would take his thumb and point it at himself. This message has stuck with me over a decade later and truly provides some timeless wisdom around responsibility, accountability, and self-awareness.

The phrase, “point the thumb before you point the finger” first speaks to the fact that we as individuals need to take responsibility for our own actions before we begin to blame others. If we did something wrong and the outcome is not in our favor, the outcome is our fault. Period. There’s no need to look outside of ourselves when we’re the largest influence on that outcome. Sure, there could be some other factors that played into the outcome, but if we’re the main reason for that outcome taking place, we need to take responsibility. Often times, we try to play the blame game or look for scapegoats and excuses when things don’t go our way, but if we can genuinely try to live more by Coach’s phrase, we’ll take more pride in what we do, and try our best to execute at a higher level. Taking responsibility is a demonstration of character and humility. This shows that we are okay with our ego “being checked”, even though our performance did not quite live up to the standard. And that’s okay. The most important part is that we recognize that, rather than make excuses. That way, we can also start holding ourselves accountable for our responsibility.

Accountability and responsibility go hand in hand. When we don’t take on responsibility for our actions, or lack thereof, we are also not holding ourselves accountable. By pointing the thumb at ourselves first, we can begin the process of holding ourselves accountable for what we did, or did not, do. This too is a demonstration of higher character, which really helps generate a sense of humility that people can respect, and in some cases, even admire. If we choose the opposite stance, and decide not to hold ourselves accountable for what we do, we lose a lot of credibility. People won’t respect us, people won’t trust us, and people know that we won’t follow through because we won’t do the work and we’ll just look for someone to pin the responsibility on when things go south. However, by pointing inward, we can truly reflect on what we did, or did not do, and try to make amends by taking on that responsibility, and holding ourselves accountable for our future actions. From there, we can try to make amends, by changing our actions, and holding ourselves accountable to work towards a higher standard. This can help rebuild our credibility if we’ve lost some of it due to our finger pointing rather than our thumb pointing. This act of redemption is a way that we can also cultivate some self-awareness.

Self-awareness begins by pointing the thumb at ourselves. Those who are not self-aware are often the biggest finger pointers in the room. On the contrary, those that are more self-aware, tend to do a lot of introspective work to truly understand themselves, in order to improve not just their lives, but those around them. True self-awareness is a process in which we take the time to figure out what areas of our lives we are thriving in and sort out the areas of our life could use some polishing. Those that are not self-aware often have an inflated version of themselves because they feel like everything they’re already doing is sufficient. However, the conundrum there is they fall into the trap of thinking that they’re already sufficient, so they don’t see their own flaws very clearly. This is how they fall into the cycle of pointing the finger before they point the thumb. This can lead people down a slippery slope, that only gets steeper with each additional finger that gets pointed at someone else. This is why it is crucial to put our egos aside during the self-awareness process. When we know and understand we are going to make mistakes, it becomes easy to accept the mistakes, accept responsibility for them, and hold ourselves accountable for them, in order to minimize them in the future.

At the end of the day, if we truly want to be a better version of ourselves, it’s important to point the thumb before we point the finger. Nobody in the human race is perfect, and each of us have plenty of work that we can be doing in order to improve our current situations. It starts by taking on that responsibility, and then holding ourselves accountable to reach the standard we want to reach. We shouldn’t place blame for our current situation, rather we should recognize what we need to do better by engaging in some self-awareness introspection. That way, we can try to set a better example for those who look to us for guidance, we can take more pride in fulfilling a higher level of our personal character, and also show that we can embrace our flaws, and try to improve on them. Thanks for life lesson, coach. Your saying has truly been a blessing in my life and a fantastic moral compass. I’ll try to make you proud, and I hope others try to as well!

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