finger pointing

pointing fingerAn olden bit of anatomically accurate and metaphorically apt wisdom: When you point your finger at someone, remember three fingers point back at you. Jesus said it first and rather pointedly (sorry, I couldn’t resist!): “Do not judge. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye and not notice the log in your own?” (Matthew 7.1a, 3).

With a tad more than six decades of living and nearly forty years of pastoral ministry observing human behavior, another idiomatic word comes to mind: Easier said than done.

Why is it easier, simpler to commend, command that we not judge others than for us not to do it?

In a positive sense, it’s because we all make judgments (differentiations, distinctions) all the time in relation to everything and everyone around us. This is an aspect of the necessary act of discernment as we, seeking to make meaning of our existence, claim what’s real and true for us. And sometimes, for it can’t be avoided, our awareness of our reality, our truth is cast in the shadows of our perceptions of what is undesirable about others.

Yet, speaking always only for myself,  it is through the lens of my impossible to ignore dislikes that I (and this is one instance when a self-centered focus is not a conceited thing!) have beheld how to pay less attention to the person at the end of my finger, the one with the speck, and concentrate more on the three fingers pointing back at me and my log (verily, my cross that Jesus bids that I take up and carry as a I follow him).

I have discovered (and I can’t recall when this insight first dawned) that whenever I, annoyed or angry, point and say, “You… (followed by my description of what you did or said that I wish you hadn’t or what you didn’t do or say that I wish you had, and, depending on the depth of my dudgeon, accompanied by my unpleasant references to your unpraiseworthy personality traits), the root of my irritation is always internal. For whatever it is that you did or said or didn’t do or say, I am the one who has reacted, often strongly. Hence, in honesty with myself and in fairness to you, before I say a word, I need to examine my mind and heart to discern what it is that has been disturbed. Usually it is some deep wound of a long ago, but unforgotten hurt, some unresolved feeling of loss or emptiness, or some still unmet longing or need that you unknowingly, inadvertently stirred up. And whenever this realization occurs, my first word, in truth’s necessity, must be, “This is not about you, but about me.” And if I am to continue speaking with integrity, then I must tell you what your action or inaction has triggered within me.

I cannot confess always to be in my best mind and heart so to follow this practice. Yet, when I am and when I do, I have found that it serves well my calling to be loving and just.

Even so, I dare not claim any higher consciousness, greater righteousness than anyone else. Still, I also confess that when I see one point an angry finger at another and speak, saying, “You…”, followed by criticism of that person and without one’s admission of one’s own internal hurt, I feel the pain of a loss of an opportunity for candid, caring dialogue.

2 thoughts on “finger pointing

  1. You’ve hit on one of my pet peeves Paul. In my mind, pointing a finger as you described it is one of the worst things you can do while communicating. In my line of work there is an over abundance of finger pointing, literally and figuratively. I work hard in my heart and mind never to point my finger at someone, even if they are doing so to me. NOT easy at all!!! Trying to be loving and just can be so difficult, but the pain and loss of not doing so (as you stated so well) can be even worse.

    In my security role I often have to intervene between two or more “finger-pointing” people and try to restore calm and dialogue. I often suggest that everyone involved put their hands behind their backs as we talk, for a moment taking away the “accusatory finger” and its destructive power. When that works, calm dialogue and active listening can often lead to better understanding of the issue and faster resolution. There’s a lot to be said for being loving and just. More folks should try it.


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