Don’t Point the Finger, Point the Thumb

Bad situations resolve when we stop blaming and own our role in the problem

I once heard a retired NFL quarterback on television talking about the players on a team that was mired in a terrible losing streak. He preached that, for this team to turn things around, every individual player needed to own their role in the situation. And he ended his assessment with what I thought was a profoundly powerful statement. He looked down the barrel of the camera, as if talking to each of the players directly, and said, “Guys, you can’t point the finger here, you gotta point the thumb.”

I loved the expression immediately because it gets to a truth that many of us don’t want to face. After a fallout with a family member, a lover, a friend, or a co-worker, if we truly want to resolve the conflict and find a way forward, the single most important step we must take is to own our role in what happened. And that means looking in the mirror, pointing the thumb, and being brave enough to ask how we contributed, what we may have gotten wrong, and – most importantly – what we can do to turn things around.

Remember that, after an argument, what’s done is done. The past can’t be changed, so continually pointing the finger only deepens our pain and anger because it has no outlet. Incessant blaming just dumps us on a miserable carousel powered by our egos. It spins faster and faster, makes us sick to our soul, and when the anger subsides, we find ourselves right where we started. What’s bad has only gotten worse.

The stakes couldn’t be higher, either. Lives can be ruined, not because of the original incident, but because of our reaction to it. If we’re forever playing the victim and pointing the finger, other people will quickly turn away because of the negative energy we’re generating. And soon we are alone with our anger… all because our ego needed to be right.

It’s amazing what pointing the thumb does. A moment of true reflection opens our eyes to how we contributed to the conflict and how our behavior affected the other person. This may lead us to approach them and apologize. And contrary to what some may tell you, saying “I’m sorry” is one of the strongest and bravest things a person can do. Strong people can admit a mistake, and forgive themselves for it, without having their entire sense of self crumble. Only the weak demand to be right all the time. And when we calmly own our role in what happened, it’s amazing how quickly it encourages the other person to start examining their own role. And suddenly peace can be restored and a way forward emerges.

But what about those times when we’ve been treated poorly and have literally done nothing wrong? Well, for starters, those situations are rare – there’s usually some role that we played. But yes, they do happen and they stink. And sometimes otherwise trustworthy, high-character people we care about just outright mess up. But as frustrating as this can be, this is where there remains one massive truth that we should never lose sight of. That truth – and you’ll excuse me as I quote the name of my practice here – is that we only have this “one life”… and it’s precious. And yes, we do ultimately have the final say about how satisfying or angst-filled our one life is going to be. So, given how not-fun anger and resentment are, isn’t life just too short to hold onto those emotions?

There’s supreme strength and character in choosing to let go of your pain and truly forgive another person, especially when the misdeed involves a friend or family member that you’ve always envisioned being in your life for the long haul. Forgiveness is the strongest and bravest pointing of the thumb there is, and it’s a choice that allows everyone involved to move forward. Your ego will fight you and try to turn you back into a victim, but that’s only because it hates taking responsibility for anything. And if you let that happen, back you’ll get on that damn carousel!

But it’s just not worth it, my friend. Look around at all the beauty in the world and all the good folks doing kind things. If you must point the finger, make sure it’s to celebrate all the wonderful people, places and things that surround us!

Copyright One Life Coaching LLC