Will was a troubled nine-year-old whose father abandoned his mom two years earlier. Will was angry, and he often would lash out at others with hurtful words. He once told his mom, “I see why Dad left you!”
Unable to cope with his outbursts of cruelty, she sent Will to spend the summer with his grandparents. His grandfather’s strategy to help Will learn self-control was to make him go into the garage and pound a two-inch-long nail into a four-by-four board every time he said a mean and nasty thing. For a small boy, this was a major task, but he couldn’t return until the nail was all the way in. After about ten trips to the garage, Will began to be more cautious about his words. Eventually, he even apologized to his grandma for all the bad things he’d said.
That’s when his grandmother came in, bringing in the board filled with nails and told him to pull them all out. This was even harder than pounding them in, but after a huge struggle, he did it.
His grandmother hugged him and said, “I appreciate your apology and, of course I forgive you because I love you. But I want you to know an apology is like pulling out one of those nails. Look at the board. The holes are still there. The board will never be the same. I know your dad put a hole in you, but please don’t put holes in other people; you are better than that.”
Suggestion: don’t allow yourself to duck the learning moment by saying an automatic, “That’s all right” when someone apologizes. What was done or said was not all right, and in all honesty it’s probably a lie. It is a quick way out of an uncomfortable situation, but is not helpful for either of you. Instead, use “I accept your apology.” You might even add, “I forgive you.”
As long as we’re dealing with honesty, we all know not everyone chooses to pull out the nails they’ve driven into others. Every one of us, though, has the ability to yank them out ourselves, learn from those experiences and get on with life. From either perspective, we are indeed “better than that.”