Tempering the Nails

Meditation & Health No 3 - Table of Contents

Tempering the Nails

There once was a man who had spent much of his life plagued by a bad temper, a trait for which he had paid dearly. After many hard lessons, he became compassionate and tolerant. In order to teach his son, who seemed to have inherited his fiery temperament, to manage his anger, he came up with the following idea:

One day, when his son was in a calm, receptive mood, the father said, “I know it’s not always easy for you to control your temper. But when you lose your cool, you really hurt people. I have an idea. Here’s a bag of nails. The next time you lose your temper, why don’t you hammer a nail into the fence in our backyard?”

“Lose my cool? When have I ever done that?” The son was oblivious to his own flaws.

One week later, many nails studded the fence. The son still couldn’t control his temper, but he did remember to hammer a nail into the fence every time he erupted in anger. Three months later, he was dismayed to see that the fence was covered with myriad nails.

“I guess I do have a bad temper!” The son finally took ownership of his explosive personality, thanks to the evidence facing him in the form of numerous nails. “How can I get rid of this bad habit – it’s terrible!”

The father said, “Continue to hammer one nail into the fence every time you lose your cool. But you can only pull out one nail if you manage to control your temper for three consecutive days.”

He explained the importance of holding oneself to a strict standard of consistent calmness before removing any nails: It is an acknowledgment, he said, of the lasting damage done by losing one’s temper. Although it was challenging, the son eventually managed to control his anger most of the time. It took him three years to pull out all the nails that he had hammered into the fence during the initial three months of the experiment.  

On the day that the son pulled out the last nail, he proudly said to his father, “I’ve made so much progress in the past few years. All the nails are gone!”

The father acknowledged his son’s success. “Terrific job! It took me a lot longer to learn to control my anger when I was young. You have done well, my son.”

“I’m still puzzled about one thing, though,” the son said. “Even though my temper has improved so much, my friends are still very distant with me. Why is that?”

The father led his son to the fence. He said, “My son, look at the fence. Do you see all the holes left by the nails? When you say things in anger, they leave a permanent scar. The fence will never be the same.” 

Making up for the hurt we have caused can be difficult or impossible. But every day is a chance to begin anew and therefore it’s a blessing to recognize flaws within ourselves – it gives us the chance to move forward in a new and better way. 


Meditation & Health No 3 - Table of Contents