Categories Menu

Posted by on Oct 21, 2013 in Personal Motivation, Self Improvement | 12 comments

The Rusty Nail

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away lived a man named John. Now John was much like everyone else. He was white, or black or brown or red, take your pick. He was young, he was old. He favored Democrats, he liked Republicans, and he voted for independents. He was a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu, a Buddhist, an atheist, and an agnostic, depending upon the time of day.

He did bear however one distinguishing characteristic. For John spent much of his time in the middle of the street lying on a rusty nail.

As you might expect there was nothing to be gained by this particular predilection.  It paid nothing and caused him no end of misery. The embarrassment of being hoisted upon the petard of a rusty nail in the middle of the street, for the whole world to see was, well embarrassing. It severely limited his mobility, confining him the very spot he occupied. And worst of all it hurt like hell, causing him to shriek, moan and whimper in never ending, abject agony. Yet there he lay either unable or unwilling to move off his rusty nail.

Each day the townspeople would gather to gaze upon the spectacle. “Poor John”, they whispered. “He is such a good man. He deserves much better than to this.”

Why does he just lay there, why doesn’t he just get up”, the baker intoned, shaking his head in a mixture of pity and disgust.

“I don’t know” responded the town’s mayor, as he tucked his shirt into his ever expanding waistline. “I guess it doesn’t hurt badly enough?”

Like John, are we also stuck on a rusty nail? I know many people, some of whom are dear friends, who are caught in untenable situations. These are smart, talented, and noble individuals, of immense character and possessed of the kind of wisdom earned over a lifetime. They can create works of great art and beauty. They can draw, they can sing, they can dance. They can teach, they can lead and they can govern. They pay their taxes and obey the law. They contribute mightily to their families and their community.

Fortunately most are employed. But their jobs demean them, providing just enough money to pay the bills while simultaneously keeping them broke. Like John they too are deserving of so much more. Yet, they seem reluctant to use their obvious gifts to change their situations.

Change is frightening and over time we become used to, comfortable with, even addicted to painful situations. In the deepest recesses of our core we convince ourselves, “better the devil we know than the devil we don’t know”, fully realizing that the devil is still the devil. We tell ourselves that as bad as it is, “it’s not that bad”, when we know in our hearts that it is just the opposite. We persuade ourselves that “we are strong, we can deal with it” to the point of confusing surviving with prospering.

In addition, the rusty nail permits us the avoidance of personal responsibility. We can blame our condition on others, including but not limited to the rusty nail itself. If only the nameless, faceless “they” had not placed us on the nail in the first place or would allow us to extract ourselves from it, our lives would be near perfect. If only the nail were not so sharp, so rusty or so damn uncomfortable, we could concentrate on doing better.  We persuade ourselves that life is so complicated and the press of everyday business so taxing, that we are too confused, too tired to remove the nail. Worse, we become disheartened and lose faith in both our ability and our worth.

So we negotiate against our spirit. We make shortsighted decisions that corrode and wither our souls. We choose the familiar path of unpleasant certainty rather than risk the uncertainty of change, even though change may well enable us to soar.

These are the challenges and doubts we know only too well. These are the demons we wrestle each and every day or our pitiful existence. These are the games we play with ourselves if no one else. In the end we become complacent and embrace fear, a toxin which grounds us, paralyzes us and binds us to the nail. 

However, being afraid, experiencing doubt is neither a sin nor a weakness. It just means that we are human. Our saving grace is simply this.

We are strong. If not for this strength, this intestinal fortitude we would not have made it this far. We are deserving of a greater destiny. And as bad as it is to be afraid, fear has a cure, i.e., action. Fortune favors the brave, always has and always will.

So go for it. Move. Get off your ass and get busy. Chase your dreams, pursue your destiny by taking concrete action steps to get you where you want to be, where you need to be. If you don’t know how to achieve your goals then search for answers. If you require help, simply ask for it. Someone will always lend a hand.

But never succumb to fear. Never permit it to deter us from doing that which must be done. Instead, put that bitch precisely where she belongs, in the closet, in the basement, wrapped in chains, encased in concrete, surrounded by explosives, guarded by sea serpents and submerged under fifty feet of water, never to be seen or heard from again.

And we must never stop trying to get off that rusty nail until we either succeed or die trying. Either one makes us worthy. Either one makes us heroes.

As always, share this post with others and your feedback is more than welcome.

Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO of the Blackacre Policy Forum, LLC


  1. Interesting Post. I would like to unpack the notion of “negotiating against the spirit,” as well as, the idea that “one makes shortsighted decisions that corrode and wither their souls,” to offer a slightly different perspective. That is, some people can’t see past their current situation. In other words, in John’s world the nail may be the norm.
    I offer this viewpoint with the parable, “Allegory of the Cave” in mind. Plato’s Cave, as it is also affectionately called, was written as a part of his works in the Republic which is presented after the metaphor of the sun and the analogy of the divided line at the tail of Book VII and VIII; Plato’s works in this area can be found in a number of different places: the scholarly work at Harvard Studies in Classical Philology in 1906 by JH Wright or perhaps a more modern explanation in Wikipedia – For a enactment, YouTube offers a short video here –
    At any rate, I will love to elaborate more and will wait for subsequent post with comments that invite more dialog around this concept.

    • Wow! Brotha is quoting Plato on me. What next, Aristotle, Socrates, Rene Descarte and his famous “cogito, ergo sum”?

      Nevertheless, the insight you bring is valid. In John’s world, the rusty nail as an allegory for pain, suffering and a stunted life is the norm. The question remains however. What do we do to move a great people off their collective nail? How do we overcome our limitations and become greater than ourselves?

      The very purpose of Blackacre is to find and propose solutions to these an other issues which burden our community, our nation and our world. So weigh in on possible solutions to the central question of our time. If you would like to post a blog regarding this matter, Blackacre is all yours.

  2. This is a wonderful commentary on the human condition. Powerfully dramatized and thoughtfully provoking and challenging! Well done Mr. Hicks!

    • Thanks and if you really like the post, pass it along to your friends and associates. Just don’t forget. We share a common destiny.

  3. Nice story Leo my friend!
    What have we been taught most of our lives?
    We have been taught caution. We have been taught to be content.
    The grass is not always greener on the other side.
    What glitters is not always gold.
    Basically, go after goals and you risk finding out they are not that
    great after all and who wants to face that disappointment?
    The Apostle Paul says that we should be content in whatever situation we find ourselves in. Paul was content with much or with little, with a rusty thorn in his side or not, in shipwreck and in beatings and imprisonments and in snakebites.
    Paul even goes so far as to say that people should stay in the line of work they find themselves in at the time they become Christian!
    It is no wonder people tolerate so much. I saw a billboard the other day that said:
    “What we allow today becomes normal tomorrow”.
    “allow” could be “tolerate.

    • Thanks Eric. We have indeed been taught to embrace caution and contentment, even if our circumstances are painful. I feel it everyday, even when I play tennis. Sometimes I play not to lose rather than playing to win. I hate playing like that even when I am victorious.

      The bottom line for me is simply this. I have no desire to be perfect, but I do want to be the best man I can be. To do that, I must never be satisfied with just getting the ball over the net. I must instead hit out on the ball.

      As a fellow tennis player, you know precisely what I mean.

  4. Leo what a great analogy! Did you describe me? How did you know? Great insight and now the change begin!

    • I was not thinking of you when I wrote the Blog. To some extent I was thinking of myself. To a larger extent I was thinking of us all.

      Nevertheless thanks for the feedback. And please share the blog with friends and associates. Moreover, I would appreciate any advice you can share for making Blackacre, the public policy forum of the uncommon, common man/woman.

      Finally, it bears repeating, the Blackacre Public Policy Forum is about community engagement, stakeholder, involvement, consumer collaboration and user ownership.

  5. Leo,,I love the indepth viewpoint and “call to action” style ! Very thoughtful my Brother !

    • Thanks. If you really like it pass it on. Also consider quest blogging.

Leave a Reply to Anonymous Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *