The Nail in the Fence Story

the nail in the fence story

The Nail in the Fence is a short story I love because it reminds me each time I read it of the power of our words. And as a parent, I find the Dad in this story so inspiring in the way he conveys this life lesson to his son.
Because nothing says it better than a story, here it is for you to discover or re-discover.


In a small village, a little boy lived with his father and mother. He was the only son. The boy used to get angry very quickly and taunt others with his words. His bad temper made him use words that hurt others. He scolded kids, neighbours and even his friends due to anger. His friends and neighbours avoided him, and his parents were really worried about him.

His mother and father advised him many times to control his anger and develop kindness. Unfortunately, all their attempts failed. Finally, the boy’s father came up with an idea.

One day, his father gave him a huge bag of nails. He asked his son to hammer one nail to the fence every time he became angry and lost his temper. The little boy found it amusing and accepted the task.

Every time he lost his temper, he ran to the fence and hammered a nail. His anger drove him to hammer nails on the fence 30 times on the first day! After the next few days, the number of nails hammered on the fence was reduced to half. The little boy found it very difficult to hammer the nails and decided to control his temper.

Gradually, the number of nails hammered to the fence was reduced and the day arrived when no nail was hammered! The boy did not lose his temper at all that day. For the next several days, he did not lose his temper, and so did not hammer any nail.

Now, his father told him to remove the nails each time the boy controlled his anger. Several days passed and the boy was able to pull out most of the nails from the fence. However, there remained a few nails that he could not pull out.

The boy told his father about it. The father appreciated him and asked him pointing to a hole, “What do you see there?

The boy replied, “A hole in the fence!”

He told the boy, “The nails were your bad temper and they were hammered on people. You can remove the nails but the holes in the fence will remain. The fence will never look the same. It has scars all over. Some nails cannot even be pulled out. You can stab a man with a knife, and say sorry later, but the wound will remain there forever. Your bad temper and angry words were like that! Words are more painful than physical abuse! Use them for good purposes, to grow relationships. Use them to show the love and kindness in your heart!

Isn’t it true that we all sometimes get carried away by our emotions? How many times do we then end up saying things in a way that is neither kind nor loving?
So the story teaches us how positive the impact of controlling our anger can be. But how do we effectively do that?

One thing I have learned from my yoga journey is that a single breath can change everything. Sometimes all you have to do before you react to a situation that upsets you is to take a second for one deep breath. One deep inhale, one deep exhale. That’s it!

NO …
… burying the anger deep down, hoping it will go away.
… hiding it from others, thinking that is control.
… ignoring it, equating it to letting go.

For having tried all of the above and more, I believe the key lies in that very moment when you see the anger within you. Yes, when you actually recognize it’s taking your body and mind over.
You know that split second when you feel your face become warmer, your heart beat faster and your jaw clench? That’s it. This is your chance to choose another way, to decide that you will only watch it happen within you and not act upon it. And just like that, you detach from it and become able to let it go. I know it sounds too simple to be true. But believe me, it works.

Of course it takes practice, and of course it isn’t easy. But like with everything else, the more you try the better you get at it! So how about you give it a try?

Photo credit: Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.