The Broken Plate Analogy

I was considering the broken plate analogy the other day when it occurred to me that it is, in fact, an incomplete thought. If you’re unaware of the analogy of which I speak it goes something like this:

“Grab a plate. Now break it on the floor. Now tell it you’re sorry. Is it fixed? No? Now you understand.”

It makes sense. It gets the point across but lacks the punch that the “plate” in any scenario really feels.

In my mind the scenario goes like this:

Grab a plate. Smash it. Tell it your sorry. The plate believes you that you are sorry and forgives you but it is still broken. Now comes the sticky part. You feel bad that the plate is still broken so you try to fix it. Glue, duct tape, anything that will put the pieces back together for the plate. The plate is grateful. You feel good for helping put the plate back together. And you are both happy for a time while the plate is letting the glue dry and from all outward appearances the plate looks fine. But the plate still remembers being dropped and can feel the cracks because they are part of the plate now.

Here’s where it gets really troublesome. More time passes and everything is good between you and the plate. You actually start to forget that you broke the plate and feel like everything is back to normal. Even the plate feels good again. After some regular wear, the cracks are really starting to fade. But the plate still gets nervous sometimes when you go to touch it. It gets that little reminder of how it felt being smashed and is nervous about it happening again. You reassure the plate you would never break it again. You say you are sorry for dropping it in the first place. The plate still believes you. You cherish the plate and don’t want to ever damage it again.

The problem is damage. You can clean and wash the plate and care for it. You can be careful with the plate and make sure you don’t do anything that could break the plate again. But the cracks are still there no matter how much time passes. And when you go to put something heavy on the plate again the stress can make the glue come undone and those cracks never let the plate be as strong as it was originally. The plate wants to be strong again. It wants to carry everything you want to put on it. But the weight of the things you want to put on the plate sometimes cause those old cracks to hurt and feel more prominent.

My advice, never intentionally break a plate.


  1. i know the story of the broken plate however although it is broken, you still love it because it could have some history with it, perhaps it belonged to your mum, sister, nan, father, etc who no longer are with you. and although it maybe broken you still love it.. because it has sentimental value to you… i will still look at it with love 🙂 and keep it on my shelf.

  2. Thank you for this analogy. As a Grief Recovery Specialist, and a life learner, who teaches and learns metaphorically, I can incorporate this visual when assisting people in utilizing the action steps necessary to move through grief as a result of losses of any kind.

  3. This story is rather disempowering to me, and over-simplistic, in several ways.

    Humans are, luckily, really nothing like plates. If they feel they are, then they will need to expect and accept the high chance to be broken at some point, but not always with abusive intent (even if any mishandling may feel deliberate to them). From the plate’s perspective, it will always be and remain a passive victim, whilst the human handler always has enormous power and all responsibility.

    If the plate expects to be completely protected from damage, it would need to be just a decorative plate – which still gives no guarantee of complete preservation, and could be an insult to its real purpose and potential anyway – so, is probably actually not desirable, practical or useful.

    Humans are not one-layered like plates, but have plenty of self-healing powers, if they are willing to discover and use them. However, negative expectation will reduce these. Consider the reality in nature, that a broken bone can actually grow together stronger (!) than before the break…well, that is something to keep in mind, how the potential power of nature truly works.

    Humans are rather resilient and would not break so fully immediately, like a plate. The story, basically gives the plate just a single chance to fall – and then, it actually is completely dead.
    So, what happens, if the plate-smasher walks away, and someone else, innoccently comes along and picks up the pieces and puts them back together…are they still going to be blamed as well and suffer the consequences of the previous damage, despite their effort?!
    In terms of relationships it would mean: never date or get close to a person, who has experienced a break up before, hmm? How very sad, unrealistic and even unwise this would be.

    So, this story is, to me, a very old-fashioned, one-dimensional and pessimistic view on how to deal with challenge and conflict, and omits the perspective of possible growth as a human.

    By all means, what it possibly wants to say is: be nice to people (and things) whenever you can – but stuff happens and the responsibility how to deal with any knock is up to the “plate” as well! The emphasis of the perspective is on “inteional” in the last sentence of the article above.

    If you feel down, don’t tell yourself that you are plate, but wake up and marvel, that you are so much more powerful and can change your own fate, as a human – and that things can indeed heal, and that forgiveness for oneself and others can overcome pretty much any pain.

    • Always appreciate feedback. Maybe you missed the title. I was merely expanding the idea of an old analogy I felt was incomplete. Clearly people are not plates and yes, bones heal stronger. But I wasn’t diagnosing a broken bone analogy. I was talking about an analogy I find flawed. Yes people are more than the damage they live through. Thanks for the feedback. That being said I agree with your points. Thanks for stopping by. ???

  4. Thank you, Gregg. I am sorry that my comments came accross as critical of you. They were not meant to (oh, dammit, here we are…right on the topic..!!).

    It’s quite the opposite: thank you so much for stimulating the much needed suggestion, that the original analogy really is quite flawed and therefore almost damaging in itself.
    And thank you for your great way of expanding on it to make it better and more rounded.

    I suppose, I was more radical and, rather than working closely with it, suggested to question it more fundamentally.

    If we allow a plate to only be glued together in a way, that leaves it sharp at the edges, so that any future handler of it will feel the hurt and pain of the plate themselves, then the world is unlikely to become a better place. Equally, if there are regular plate smashers, who mindlessly carry on doing deliberate damage and do not take any personal responsibility for it, then they need to be stopped, to allow them some time to reflect.
    Whatever the perspective: change and improvement are always possible, but need willingness and effort.

    Thank you again.

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