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Is it one of our higher functions... or just a pointless gesture?

Byline: Peter Collins

"YOUR country needs you," stressed Lord Kitchener as he pointed at would-be fighters in a famous recruitment poster ofWorldWar I. The poster, regarded by many as the greatest ever produced, did not impress my grandmother who always maintained that it was rude to point. My father held a similar opinion, which is also shared by my good lady wife.

But it seems tomethat pointing can be quite effective.

One of the less palatable parts of my job is what is known in the trade as the "death knock".

The reporter is required to visit the home of relatives of a person who has met an untimely or tragic end. Knocking on the door, the hapless hack hopes he will receive a reasonably civilised welcome and talk to the relatives.

On one such occasion, I was ushered into a house by a weeping woman who was kind enough to make me a cup of tea. As I recall, her husband had met a most unfortunate end.

As I was sipping my tea and opening my notebook, the woman's son, a large, forbidding individual, entered the room. He said nothing. He simply pointed at me and then at the front door. His meaning was clear and I left.

The deeper meanings of pointing a finger had not troubled me much until the recent publication of a fascinating book by Professor Raymond Tallis, called Michelangelo's Finger.

Tallis, a philosopher, doctor, novelist, poet and academic who often sports a striking red hat, is the sort of polymath who deserves the deepest admiration.

Starting with Michelangelo's famous fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, where the index fingers of God and Man are central to the representation of the Creation of Adam, Tallis explores the role the index finger plays He points out, as it were, that the human ability to use the index finger to point has been crucially important in determining humanity's radically different evolutionary pathway.

His conclusion is that pointing casts a light on the way humans, unique among living creatures, transcend their organic condition, and lead their lives rather than merely living them.

There has been a good deal of fingerpointing in SouthWales in recentweeks, not least at the beleaguered chairman of Cardiff City Football Club, Peter Ridsdale, and the demoted Liberal Democrat AM, Mick Bates.

I'm not surewhat ProfTallis thinks but it seems to me that this kind of accusatory finger-pointing represents one of the more distasteful sides of human nature.

Writer Emile Zola finger-pointed in an admirable way in his famous open letter of 1898, called J'accuse, in which he accused the government of anti-Semitism and the unlawful jailing of Alfred Dreyfus. But the finger-pointing at Messrs Ridsdale and Bates has not been so impressive.

I know nothing about football or football finance. I may well be naive but it seems to me that the admittedly controversial Mr Ridsdale has done his best for the club, even though it appears his efforts could end in grief and recriminations.

Of course, Mr Ridsdale should be held to account forwhatever actions he takes. Butheshould nothaveto face unfairand often ill-informed criticism from the finger-pointers.

I think I have a better understanding of Mr Bates. That's not to say that I have allegedly fallen down the stairs of a restaurant in what Private Eye calls a "tired and emotional" state and then allegedly abused a paramedic.

But I am, alas, acquainted with that awful feeling of waking up, ashamed of what I might have said or done "in my cups" the night before.

Even Winston Churchill got into trouble in thisway. His famous comment to a woman when he was drunk still tickles me. He told her: "Yes madam, I am inmy cups, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly."

It seems that Mr Bates has been irresponsible, especially for aman in his position. If necessary, he deserves to be suitably chastised and punished.

But what he does not deserve is the kind of sanctimonious and, I suspect, hypocritical finger-pointing he has endured from some quarters.

Prof Tallis might know all about finger-pointing. But I think, as is often the case, the Bible says it better: "Judge not lest ye be judged" and "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone".

And never forget, it's rude to point.


Does pointing the finger show leadership or a more distasteful side of human behaviour?
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Feb 13, 2010
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