As a little kid growing up on a sheep farm near Christchurch, New Zealand, Martin was a bright, hardworking boy, prone to losing his temper and getting angry. He would end up saying harsh words to his friends and family without often realising the impact of his angry outbursts.
Intent on mending his son’s ways, Martin’s dad decided on a plan. He gave his son a sack of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the wooden fence at the back of their farm. The son agreed. The first day, he hammered 35 nails into the fence. As the days passed, the number of nails hammered into the fence gradually decreased. It was quite a task going all the way to the back of the farm and hammering a nail. Young Martin figured it was easier to just control his temper, and not get angry.
And then, one day, he did not lose his cool at all. A day of no nails! Delighted, he told his father about it. And the father said that for every day that Martin did not lose his temper, he should pull out a nail from the fence. Martin did as told, and some months later, all the nails in the fence had been removed. Martin was pleased. And so was his dad.
The father led young Martin to the back of the farm and pointing to the wooden fence he said “You have done well, my son and I am proud of you. But notice the holes left behind by the nails? They will never go away. The fence will never be the same again. It’s like that with our anger too. When we are angry, we say things that leave a scar. And no amount of apologizing thereafter can ever remove those scars. Remember that!”
It’s a lesson Martin has remembered all his life. And it’s a lesson we would all do well to take to heart too. Keep your cool. Don’t lose your temper. And you will see a significant improvement in your relationships. People will like you more, they will respect you a lot more – and you will find that hardly anybody gets angry with you. If you find yourself losing your cool often, maybe you should set yourself a punishment equivalent to hammering nails on the fence. Like Martin, you too might then find yourself controlling your temper a lot better. Good to remember that you can never really win when you get angry. You always lose -your temper, your cool and a whole lot else besides.
Saying ‘Sorry’ is like using one of those erasers on the top of a pencil. It’s easy to use, it feels like you have erased what was written, but the marks remain on the sheet of paper forever. And in this era of instant messaging and on-the-go e-mails, it becomes even more important to watch your words. If you are upset and want to shoot off an angry e-mail or message, hold it! Draft a mail perhaps – but leave it as a draft. Don’t hit the ‘send’ button whilst you are angry. Tell yourself that you will take a look at it the next morning, and only then send it. Chances are, with a cooler head the next morning, you will realise the folly of sending out the angry email. And it does not matter that you are in the right, or that you think your anger is justified. If you lose your cool, remember, you lose. Period.
Next time you are angry and want to say something, take a deep breath. Pause. And maybe say nothing at all.
Starting today, resolve to keep your cool. Watch what you say. And see the difference!