His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper he had to hammer a nail in the back fence.
The first day the boy had driven 6 nails into the fence!
Then it gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence …
Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all.
When he told his father of his accomplishment; his father suggested that he now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper.
The days passed; finally he was able to report back to dad that all the nails in the fence were gone!
And when he did, his father took him by the hand and led him back to the fence.
“You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same …”
[Author unknown, but greatly appreciated! If you or anyone you know has a proprietary interest in this story please authenticate and I will be happy to credit, or remove, as appropriate.]
The fence will never be the same.
The boy won’t either, I’m betting.
Isn’t this a neat story and a solid lesson?
There are many aspects to this story worthy of pondering!
There’s the measurement aspect. What gets measured gets done … or at least what gets measured becomes more visible, signals something important, and exerts force to influence change. Nailing the nails in the back fence and pulling them out created a real time scorecard of sorts for the boy!
There’s the effort aspect. If it’s easier not to change than it is to change, we won’t change; but when we tweak the dynamic, as the father did when asking the boy to hammer a nail in the fence for every time he lost his temper, the effort equation shifted. The novelty and satisfaction of pounding the nails into the fence soon wore off; it became laborious to the boy; it was hard work! And just like that holding his temper became relatively easier …
There’s the responsibility, self-management, and empowerment aspect. It wasn’t the dad keeping score; it was the boy himself. It wasn’t the dad doing the nailing, it was the boy himself. Nailing in nails takes some muscle. Pulling them out too! Can you imagine his self awareness and self control muscles developing right along with his biceps as he hammered?
There’s the visual feedback aspect. No nails in the back fence to begin with … then, nails in the fence. Not good; doesn’t look right. Then, less nails in the fence; progress. Then no nails in the fence! Success! But the holes …
Ahh, the holes.
Look at all those holes … the fence is damaged.
It will never be the same.
* * * * *
Let’s consider our relationships — at work, at home…
What happens when we lose it? When we react emotionally? Raise our voice? Accuse and blame?
Nails in the fence.
There are consequences of our actions, and of our behaviors. Our words matter. How we say them matters. They can disrespect; they can hurt; they can be damaging. Even after the I’m sorry …
Holes in the fence.
Wouldn’t it be helpful to grow our capability to control our emotions? So we can temper our reactions? So we don’t have to pick up the hammer and pound another nail into the fence … so there’s no need to pull that nail out with a contrite “I’m so sorry” …
And while apologizing is good — after all it is an admission of a wrong, with a feeling of regret, akin to removing a nail previously pounded in — there nevertheless has been damage done.
There is still the matter of those nail holes.
Will the relationships ever be the same?
Well, if they’re anything like the fence …