Cracked Pots

— by Jo A. Henry, M.A., MFTI, CADC II, IMF Registered Intern #73203

Supervised by Donald W. Welch, Ph.D., LMFT, License #LMFT 50129

A Chinese Fable

A young water bearer in China carries two large pots, each hanging on ends of a pole resting across the back of his neck. One pot is cracked, while the other pot is perfect. Each day as the water bearer comes to the end of his long walk from the stream to his house, the pot with the crack arrives only half full while the perfect pot is perfectly full, delivering a full portion of water.

One beautiful spring day the young water bearer is strolling along the bubbling stream making his daily journey delivering only one and a half pots of water to his house. He notices a look of shame on the cracked pot and hears the downcast discouragement in its bitter complaints to the perfect pot about its perceived failures.

“I am so ashamed of my imperfections and poor performances day after day. I hear the praises, which you deserve, for your accomplishments because you are so perfect. Yet, I become more miserable realizing I will only ever accomplish half of what I am made to do. I will always be a failure.”

As the water bearer listens with compassion, the cracked pot says to the water bearer, "I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house."

The water bearer is not alarmed, nor is he endorsing the cracked pot’s perception of its crack as failure. Instead the water bearer says to the pot, "Do you see the flowers growing on only one side of the path? These flowers are on your side of the path on our way home. Do you also see there are no flowers on the other side, the side of the path on which the perfect pot hangs on our way home?” 

The cracked pot is perplexed wondering and asking what this means. The water bearer explains: “I know (and have always known) about your crack. You view the crack in your side as a flaw, a weakness, a failure. I see the crack in your side as an opportunity. I love flowers and I hate wasting water, so every spring I plant seeds along the path and I use your drippings to water the flowers on your side of the road. Every day you are watering these flowers that I use to decorate my table. These beautiful flowers brighten my home because of you and the crack in your side. Without you, I would not have this beauty to grace my house.


 The cracked pot’s view of his crack caused shame and discouragement that led to bitter sadness and a sense of failure and uselessness. This perception was colored with distortion and that distorted color influenced and distorted the pot’s belief system.

We all have unique flaws. We are all cracked pots. Do we believe that our view or our perceptions are facts? Do we view our flaws as failures? Do we give our distorted views influence over our beliefs about our self and about God?  What happens to our view of God or our view of God’s purpose for us when we believe our distorted perceptions?

How do we cracked pots prevent our flawed perceptions from becoming distorted beliefs?

1. FACTS: If facts are truth, then truth is factual.

How do we get down to ‘just the facts’? First we strip away all feelings, beliefs, and distorted views from the facts. This means eliminating all of our assumptions, opinions, and expectations. A true fact is agreed upon by all involved as true. Finding the fact is by far the most difficult task in dispelling false belief and distorted perceptions. We all find it difficult to give up our spin on things, our opinions about a situation, our assumptions especially about people, which are typically negative.

2. PERCEPTIONS: Perception is the lens through which we see life; a lens that colors our view.

Perceptions are not facts. Our perceptions are formed from all of our experiences. Therefore, each person’s perceptions are going to be unique to that person. Our experiences color our view of life in unique colors that make us who we are. However, they also can keep us from seeing things clearly. As we learn the color of our views, we are better able to change those colors. 

3. BELIEFS: Our beliefs are formed by our perceptions (the color of our view, our lens).

If we believe our perceptions are facts, we set ourselves up for error in our thinking. The cracked pot could only see (through its lens) the crack as failure, which influences the belief, “I will only ever … be a failure”.  When our beliefs do not line up with what God says about us, then we need to go back to the simple truth, the facts. The simple fact for the pot: there is a crack in the pot (period). Without the distortions, the fact stands alone without judgement or shame.

4. FEELINGS: Our feelings are fueled by our beliefs on our view of life.

I once heard that feelings are fickle, you can’t trust them. Feelings and emotions are fleeting like the wind. We can hear and feel the wind and sometimes see the influence of the wind, but we cannot catch or control the wind. So it is with our feelings. However, if feelings are fueled by our beliefs and our beliefs by our perception, then change must start with our beliefs and perceptions and feelings will follow.

 5. ACTIONS: Our actions, attitudes, thoughts, and words do not happen in a vacuum.  

What we do (action) is activated by how we feel. Actions are the visible part of the iceberg, with feelings, beliefs, and perceptions leading the way down to the facts, the truth. Most people want to change what is visible; theirs or someone else’s actions. However, our actions are not at the heart of most matters, our perceptions are at the heart. Simple change of our beliefs and perceptions can produce different actions. True and lasting change must get down to the heart of the actions.

Facts and Truth are fixed, stable, secure, and unchanging. 
Our view of the facts is what constitutes change.

The FACTS are colored by our PERCEPTION
Our perceptions color the facts; however, perceptions are NOT facts. 
Our perceptions form the lens through which we view our life. 

Our perceptions or lenses are colored or distorted by our experiences. 
Our lenses inform our beliefs. 

Our BELIEFS influence our FEELINGS
Our beliefs are colored or distorted by our lens.
Our beliefs fuel our feelings

Our FEELINGS influence our ACTIONS
Our feelings erupt from our belief system igniting our actions.
Our feelings are catalysts to our actions.

Our ACTIONS are the result of our PERCEPTIONS, BELIEFS, and FEELINGS
First order change is simply changing what we do.
Second order change is in knowing why and knowing how change needs to happen, and then changing.

Written by - Jo A. Henry, M.A., MFTI, CADC II
Marriage & Family Therapist Registered Intern (IMF #73203)
Donald W. Welch, Ph.D., LMFT, License #LMFT 50129; Supervising Therapist
Center for Enriching Relationships, Inc. 619.858.3105