To Your Health

Chad Beaver

Fences and Nails as a Metaphor for Living

There was once a boy who lived with his father. Daily the boy felt upset and angry and lost his temper. The boy felt alone, scared, disoriented and at times simply needed to test the boundaries of the system he was in.

The father had tried everything he knew to correct the boy. Finally one day when the boy came home, his father asked if he had lost his temper and when he said he had, his father gave him a nail and said to drive it into the fence.

Every day for weeks when the boy lost his temper, his father gave him another nail and had him drive it into the fence. Finally the boy learned to control his temper and one day came home without a report of losing his temper. The father instructed the boy to pull a nail from the fence.

For every day thereafter, the boy controlled his temper and the father told him to pull a single nail. The day came when the boy had pulled the last nail. The father then told the boy, “Look at the fence” and the boy noticed that for every nail he had driven, there was still a hole in the fence. His father explained that even though he had learned to control his anger, simply pulling the nails he had driven in anger was not enough.

This story has been a moral for many people in treatment and has helped to demonstrate the boundaries of respect, communication and value that is our personal fence with which we surround our family and loved ones. Even as we have built these fences strong and stable, as we lose our temper and make choices that drive nails into these fences, we create holes that cannot be fixed by simple changes in our behavior.

We continually strive to build a structure of safety and security around our loved ones; however, simple acts can create gaps in our communication, mistrust and troubled family dynamics. When we yell, scream, hit and handle our emotional turmoil in a manner that is inappropriate and harmful, we create holes in the feelings of trust, intimacy and love; ironically these feelings are often the very things that cause us to lose our temper and feel the stress in the first place.

Understand that in our life, we are both the parent and the child, the student and the master. In our actions, we both build fences and drive holes. Fences can be mended and families can be rebuilt. Being able to examine these patterns and find ways to repair our fences is the key to happiness.