The Boy and the Butterfly: The Struggle Makes Us Stronger
A young boy came across a butterfly cocoon and brought it into his house. He watched, over the course of hours, as the butterfly struggled to break free from its confinement. It managed to create a small hole in the cocoon, but its body was too large to emerge. It tired and became still.
Wanting to help the butterfly, the boy snipped a slit in the cocoon with a pair of scissors. But the butterfly was small, weak, and its wings crumpled. The boy expected the insect to take flight, but instead it could only drag its undeveloped body along the ground. It was incapable of flying.
The boy, in his eagerness to help the butterfly, stunted its development. What he did not know was that the butterfly needed to go through the process of struggling against the cocoon to gain strength and fill its wings with blood. It was the struggle that made it stronger.
You may have heard a variation of this story before. I came across it in Frank Dupree’s book Metamorphosis. It’s a reminder of the fact that while it’s hard to watch those who we are close to struggle, often the best help we can provide is to do nothing. By intervening, and shouldering the burden ourselves, we rob those we care about of the opportunity to grow and get stronger.
As a parent, as a friend, or as a spouse, the instinct to help is hard to resist. We see our kids struggling at school, interacting with other children, or falling behind on the playing field, and we want to step in and save them from hardship. We want to offload their pain onto ourselves.
By doing so, however, we’re eliminating the circumstances that the people we love need for their own personal development. It’s instinctive, and understandable, to want to help. But often the best course of action is to wait and, like the butterfly, let the process unfold on its own terms and timeline.
As Robert Tew once wrote, “The struggle you’re in today is developing the strength you need for tomorrow. Don’t give up.”
Sometimes the best gift we can give is to stand on the sideline, shouting encouragement, but allowing the process of growth to run its course.