OPINION: Some years ago I wrote about a youngster who was having trouble keeping friends. He was 11 then and has now just turned 20.
As he was about to head off to Europe for his work, his family turned on a combined coming of age and farewell party. To my surprise he mentioned the problem he used to have. I say used to because, looking at the number of his friends at the party, it's certainly no longer a problem.
The advice I gave his father at the time was in the form of a mid-west American story. This young man said it was the right advice at the right time and he paraphrased it as part of his speech about friendship and the friends he'll be leaving behind.
His problem was that once he established a friendship it ceased to be a relationship of equals. He liked to have his own way and wasn't slow to be critical and particularly cutting in his comments.
This is the story about a boy people found hard to get along with.
His father gives this boy a bag of nails and tells him to drive one nail into the garden fence every time he loses his patience or has an argument with someone.
The first day the boy drives 37 nails into the fence. In the following weeks, he learns to control himself and the number of nails gets lower every day. He discovers that it's easier to learn to control himself than to hammer nails.
At last, the day comes when the boy doesn't drive any nails into the fence and he tells his father this.
His father then tells the boy to take out one nail from the fence for every day he succeeds in controlling his tongue and not losing his patience.
Many days pass and finally he finds all the nails are gone.
The father takes his son to the fence and tells him, "Son, you behaved well, but look how many holes you left in the fence. It will never be the same.
"When you have an argument with someone and say bad things, you leave him with wounds like these.
"You can stab a man and then take the knife out, but you will always leave a wound. It doesn't matter how many times you say sorry, the wound will stay. A wound caused by words hurts just as bad as a physical wound.
"Friends are rare jewels, they make you smile and support you. They're ready to listen to you whenever you need it, they're behind you and they open their heart to you. Don't use your friends as verbal punch-bags. Show them how much you care for them."
© Ian Munro 2014. All rights reserved.
- The Timaru Herald