The Opposite of Pointing Fingers and Placing Blame

When we were children, we learned that it is rude to point fingers. We were told that we shouldn’t make excuses when we make a mistake. And yet, every day we see examples of these behaviors from our public figures and across social media. Personal and pointed attacks rule the day. Sometimes, I imagine us standing on our balconies, armed with tubs of water balloons aimed at those who pass by below. 

In many ways, this is exactly why I started Everyday Leadership. I believe there is an alternative to arms full of water balloons. And, I think it starts with everyday people demonstrating kindness, purpose, and connection. Here is an example.

A week ago, Gateway Public Schools held its annual fundraiser, the Matters of the Mind Luncheon. Each year, our students and teachers are the stars of the show – they make Gateway shine. Additionally, the event is sort of a homecoming for the many people who have supported Gateway over the years: founders, board members, friends in the community, alumni parents, and more. These are Gateway’s behind-the-scenes super heroes. 

Matters of the Mind is one of my favorite days of the year and simultaneously one of the most anxiety producing. It is a huge celebration, and it is also essential to Gateway’s financial health. It is a day when details and execution matter. We want the event to run without a hitch and everyone who participates to have a perfect experience. We want the event to showcase Gateway at its finest, an institution defined by excellence, grace, and gratitude. 

This year thanks to COVID-19, we held our event virtually. We went big: several student speakers, a live-via-zoom interview with Paul Tough, a new Community Impact award, multiple platforms and ways for guests to participate. We planned and practiced and problem-shot for months.  

Left: Our awesome students hosts at Matters of the Mind
Right: Wrapping up the event.

I’m not going to lie. The day was not smooth. We had more than our fair share of technical difficulties. There were tears. We sweated and swore our way through each challenge. 

But here’s what we didn’t do: point fingers or place blame. 

  • We dug deep. We looked for solutions.
  • We supported each other.
  • We worked together.
  • We appreciated the best in each other.
  • We exhibited compassion.
  • We took responsibility and tried to make it right.

Yes, we were disappointed and even a tad embarrassed. We felt terrible that some of our guests were confused by the technology and frustrated by the experience. We questioned ourselves: how could so many things go wrong despite our careful planning? We battled our self-doubt and self-criticism and perfectionism. But we did not turn on each other. 

The lack of finger pointing and blaming allowed me to learn from the experience and to be grateful, instead of hanging my head in shame. 

  • I am grateful for the reminder of the brilliance of young people and of the importance of education.
  • I am grateful to work with a team that dreams big, believes we can do hard things, and doesn’t crumble in the face of adversity.
  • I am grateful for our incredible community who believe in the potential of our students and who stick with us through thick and thin.
  • I am grateful for the lesson that sometimes things don’t go as we planned, and we survive.


  1. Well said, Sharon Olken – These are values I’ve seen you model, day in and day out, at Gateway, and one of the many reasons that you are one of my heroes.

Leave a Reply