The Man and the Butterfly: When Helping Doesn’t Help

· January 24, 2016

When we encounter someone in trouble, our tendency is to offer that person help. Especially if the person is someone close to us, like a friend or family member. But the help that we offer can turn into a hindrance. Many times, our help is not necessary, and sometimes it can even be counterproductive. 

When should we avoid offering this help?

The Story of the Man and the Butterfly 

One day a man finds the chrysalis of a butterfly, fallen in the road. Thinking that it would be in danger there, he carries it to his house to protect the little life inside, just about to be born. The next day, he realizes there is a tiny hole in the chrysalis. As he watches, he can see a small butterfly struggling to free itself. 

The effort of the small animal is enormous. And the more it tries, again and again, it cannot not escape the chrysalis. Then the moment comes in which it seems the butterfly is giving up. It stops trying, as if it has surrendered. 


So the man, worried for the little creature, takes some scissors and gently breaks the chrysalis on each side. He wanted to help the new butterfly escape. And it does. The butterfly is finally free. However, the man can see that its body is large and swollen, and its wings are too small, as if they had been folded down. 

The man waits for a while, thinking that the butterfly’s form must be temporary. He imagines that soon it will stretch its wings to their full length, and fly away. But this does not happen. Instead, it just keeps dragging itself in circles, and after a short time, it dies. 

The man ignored the fact that the butterfly’s struggle to free itself from its chrysalis was an essential step in strengthening its wings. In that process, the fluids in the butterfly’s body are transferred to its wings and only in that way can it become a butterfly ready for flight. 

The reward of effort 

As we just read in the story, when something is easy, it does not always benefit us. Many times, the difficulties we go through strengthen us and help us. As with the case of the butterfly, this struggle saves our lives.

We should learn to view strain and effort as good things that help us overcome and succeed, not as things that block us and prevent us from advancing. In life, we all experience a series of “tests” that, if we can surpass them, make us better and allow us to progress and improve.

Take babies, for example. If we never let a baby fall when it is learning how to walk, if we never put it down that baby would never learn how to do anything. Falling is not bad. Actually, on the contrary, it is a metaphor for life. And we see that the baby always picks itself up from its falls, until it finally learns how to walk. That is the reward for its effort. We must let others pick themselves up on their own.

When helping isn’t helping 

Just like in the story of the man and the butterfly, sometimes helping does not help, but rather does the opposite. When someone goes through a difficult experience, and begins to cry, for example, people tend to go back and ask what happened (maybe sincerely, maybe just out of curiosity). Some people, instead, will often stay where they are, and not go to the person who is suffering. Who makes the better choice?

When we are feeling bad, we need to take a moment to be alone with our pain. This does not mean we don’t need anyone, but rather that whoever is there simply needs to respect our space and allow our pain to flowJust sitting next to another person, whether it be a friend, brother, sister, or other family member, without saying anything, and simply being accompanied in our pain, knowing they are there for when we need a hug, or when we need to talk…that can be the most sensible way to approach another’s pain.

We should understand that there are times in which we shouldn’t be alone, but we must also recognize when the burden is our own and no one can carry it for us. We must understand that overcoming our obstacles will make us stronger, more confident, and more certain of ourselves. We must see that all of our effort comes with its own reward. With this in mind, we should not look for the easy path, and that if we want something, we must earn it. We are the only ones to walk our own path, and no one should take our place in that undertaking.