Driving Nails

allegory apologies consideration kindness moral tales warrior spirit

One day, his father hit on an idea. After a particularly bad fight, the father took the boy out back. Expecting a new form of punishment, the boy was a little apprehensive, but he'd seen it all by this point and was too proud to show fear, so he marched out behind his father. Instead of punishing his son, the father handed a hammer to the boy, along with a nail, and pointed to the fence in the back. He told his son to drive the nail into the fence.

The boy did as he was told, not really understanding the signifiance of the gesture. This seemed like an easy way to get out of paying for his meanness.

The father explained that every time the boy was cruel, talked back to his parents, disrespected his teachers, hit his sister, or abused his friends, he had to drive a nail into the fence. Whenever he apologized or made amends, he could remove a nail.

The boy was pretty ecstatic, since this meant he no longer had to worry about being punished. What was the big deal about driving nails?

The years went on, and the boy never improved. He was, however, diligent about following his father's instructions. Every time he did something mean, he dutifully went out back and put a nail into the fence. At first, there were only a few, but as time went on, there were more and more nails. Occasionally, he would take one out, but generally he made no attempts to undue the damage he'd done.

Eventually, however, the fence got pretty full. One day, the boy went out to drive another nail, and he spent so much time looking for a free spot he finally stopped to notice how crowded the fence was. There, standing in front of him, was a permanent record of how terrible a person he was.

Right then, he decided to fix his character.

He started small, apologizing when he spoke in anger. At first, he was still driving as many nail as he was taking out, but he eventually got the hang of letting his good deeds eclipse his bad ones. Little by little, he started pulling more nails than he drove.

After several years of this, the boy finally pulled out his last nail. He stepped back to admire his work, expecting a strong, clean fence, but all he saw in front of him was a badly damaged, rickety piles of sticks. All the nails, though gone, had left deep gouges in the wood. The oldest nails had left rust stains, while some of the newer ones that he'd managed to remove quickly were a little less obvious, though still visible. He had managed to pull out the most obvious reminder of his misdeeds, but he realized he could never truly fix the fence. The holes would always be there, just like the cruelty he had shown his friends and family would never truly fade away. He resolved from then on to be a kinder person from the beginning.

Moral Inspiration

This story made a very deep impression on me from a very young age. I identified strongly with that boy because I had quite a temper as a child, and I was very proud and stood up to the worst punishment. I apologized without really meaning it, just to get people off my back. But I didn't understand why my apologies didn't return things to normal.

Now, I try to avoid hurting people from the beginning. Instead of trying to fix a problem after it has occurred, I try to think ahead and avoid insulting someone or being inconsiderate. Sometimes I mess up. Pride, carelessness, insecurity, or simple coarseness have led me to say and do things that hurt others. Sometimes I get legitimately angry and I lash out. I try to make amends as soon as possible, but I recognize that the damage is done, and I always regret it.

Nobody's perfect, so I just keep trying to improve.

Once you've hurt someone, you can't erase that. No matter what you do, there will always be that memory. Unfortunately, it is in our nature to remember slights more than kindnesses, so if you hurt someone, they won't forget. They might forgive, but memories last a long time.

Much better to avoid doing the damage in the first place.

The thing is, it's never worth it to hurt others, because you always end up hurting yourself. In the end, you're just left with a bunch of weak, rickety relationships that you cannot rely on because you never took care of strengthening them. Instead, you spent all the time driving nails into them, ripping them to shreds.

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