How Do You Manage Anger?
During a recent conversation with a group of Executives, a Partner asked how I managed to control anger. The intention was to elicit a response to broaden group understanding of performance under pressure. Smiling, I answered that – with Irish and German ancestry – passion exhibited itself in many odd behaviors, mostly in avoidance of Cubs games due to the team’s penchant for failure in late innings and the inability to cope with enduring mediocrity. Wishing to pass along a basic truth without sounding pedantic, I asked the group if awareness existed of a story about the young boy told to drive nails through a fence by his father in hope of better understanding his temper. The vacant stares told of a light turned green and (before anyone could stop me) I began the telling of a young father’s wisdom in teaching a child how to bridle his anger.
A Father’s Frustration
The story begins with a father’s growing frustration in watching development of his young son and the seeming inability to control anger. One day the father, in pulling the boy aside, provided him a bag of nails and directed him to drive a nail through the fence every time he lost his temper. He asked only that the boy let him know when a full day passed without need for hammer and nail. Relenting to his father’s request, on the first day the boy drove more than 30 nails into the fence. Over the course of the following weeks, the boy hammered fewer nails as he learned to maintain his composure and, eventually, a day passed without a nail driving through the fence. The boy discovered it easier to control his anger than to continuously hammer nails through the fence.
Upon reaching this milestone, he told his father of his ability to check his anger. The father smiled and then suggested that the boy pull one nail from the fence for each day that he was able to hold his temper. Again, he asked only that his son inform him when no nails remained in the fence.
Pulling Nails from the Fence
Days stretched to weeks and weeks ran into months when, finally, the young boy pulled the last nail from the fence. Sharing the accomplishment with his father, his dad took him by the hand in leading him back to the fence. As they stared together at the planks of wood disfigured over many months of abuse, his father said:
Well done, but take notice of all the holes left from the nails. This fence will never again look as it did before you hammered into it. When speaking in anger, you leave holes in people no different than these in the wood. You may – in time – earn forgiveness, but no one forgets unkindness. Some wounds cut too deep for tears, too hurtful to forgive. Remember this.
We quickly moved on to other topics, though I hope the group understood the point of the story. Our choice of words reflects the content of our character. Strive to help others help themselves. Work to speak meaningfully and with the intent to harm no one. Think on that and choose your words wisely.
But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned. Matthew 12: 36-37
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