There once was a little boy, and if you met him, the first thing you’d notice was his bad temper. It flared like a fire, quick to ignite and burn everything around it. Recognising this, his father handed him a bag of nails. It wasn’t a punishment; it was a lesson. “Every time you lose your temper, hammer a nail into the fence,” his father instructed.
And so, the experiment began. On the first day, 37 nails found their way into the fence. Can you imagine that? 37 instances where a boy’s temper conquered him. It’s exhausting just to think about, isn’t it?
As days turned into weeks, the boy found the number of nails driven into the fence dwindling. The act of physically hammering a nail gave him pause, a moment to reflect. Have you ever stopped to notice that sometimes, the effort of expressing your anger feels worse than the anger itself? It’s a bloody draining cycle. It took a fence and a few handfuls of nails, but the boy realised holding his temper wasn’t as hard as he thought—certainly easier than driving another bloody nail into the fence.
Finally, a day came when the boy’s temper lay dormant—no fires, no flare-ups. Triumphantly, he told his father, who suggested the next phase of the lesson. “Now, for every day you can keep your temper in check, pull a nail out.” Slowly, almost ceremoniously, each nail was removed as days passed without incident. What a feat!
Then came the moment the boy could finally report that the fence was nail-free. The father took his son by the hand and led him to their splintered, hole-ridden fence. “You’ve done well,” he began, “but what about these holes? Look at them. You’ve changed, but the fence isn’t the same, is it?”
“You see, when you lash out in anger, you leave scars like these holes. It doesn’t matter how many times you apologise. A ‘sorry’ can pull out the nail, but the hole remains, doesn’t it?” The father’s words weren’t a lecture; they were an echo of a hard truth. “Remember this fence the next time your words threaten to become daggers.”
So, the boy learned a lesson, not just in anger management but in emotional awareness. And maybe we could learn from it too. Anger is a natural emotion, but it’s the lash-outs, the verbal jabs we can’t take back, that scar us and those around us. True, you can’t undo the past, but can you prevent the next hole you might put into your proverbial fence?
Updated for 2023