The Wisdom of Not Helping

I heard this story in a circle once. I’ve not been able to find it written anywhere, so I will just rephrase what I remembered. 

The caterpillar transforming into a butterfly is a metaphor often used. And this story is of a caterpillar, munching away tons of leaves until one day it is ready to cocoon up, to metamorphoseise into its next stage. 

A kind man who visits this garden often has become acquainted with seeing this caterpillar, and one day notices it has turned into a cocoon. He returns often to the garden and after some time notices the cocoon shell start to break.

He watches intently as the emerging butterfly struggles to break free from the cocoon. Hour after hour passes, and the caterpillar is still unable to break free to emerge as a butterfly. Feeling sadness at witnessing this struggle, the man decides to try and help the caterpillar break free. And so very gently with his fingers he pries open the cocoon a little. 

It works, and the butterfly emerges out of the cocoon.

But it didn’t fly.

Inadvertently, the man had crippled the butterfly. The butterfly needed the struggle of breaking free from the cocoon in order to strengthen it’s wings. And without that struggle, it’s wings never fully developed and so it couldn’t use it to fly. 

Without being able to fly and collect food, the butterfly eventually died. 

This story applies… everywhere. 

At the macro level – it applies to big banks, and this idea of ‘too big to fail’. There’s no such thing as too big to fail. Failure cannot and should not be prevented. There are consequences when the economy gets overly cushioned and managed. Resiliency doesn’t develop. Strength isn’t develop. The economy cannot fly.

In the butterfly story – we could extend it. The man seeing that the butterfly could not fly, doesn’t realise it was his fault that the butterfly couldn’t fly. He thinks, ‘oh maybe it was some bad genes’. And so what he does is he nurses the butterfly. He brings nectar to the butterfly and feeds it, as it lays there crippled.

This is what our world economy is like today. It’s utterly crippled. Unable to fully flourish because of too much helping. 

On a micro level, we have children being overly protected by parents. Parents who can’t bear to see their child fall, or fail, or get insulted by others. And so do everything they can to insulate and protect them from the big bad world. 

Overtime that leads to a child who can never grow up. Who can’t take responsibility and is so incredibly sensitive to every passing comment that no self-esteem or confidence ever arises.

There’s a wisdom in not helping. In letting someone fail. In letting someone fall. 

It’s not a lack of care. Because caring is an attitude, a feeling, a presence. Caring doesn’t have to involve an action. Caring can mean just sitting still, doing nothing. Yet fully present and caring to another – wanting their best. 

And often, that means just letting them fall. Letting them feel uncomfortable emotions. Letting them experience challenges and pain.

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