I had a sitch today that reminded me of the old story of the naturalist who was studying butterflies. One day, the guy, bored at the prospect of watching another butterfly struggle for hours and hours to exit the cocoon, decided to make a tiny hole in it.
Predictably, the butterfly exited a lot faster and more easily.
It also died that same day without ever taking wing. Apparently, the exertion of fighting it’s way out of the cocoon was what pushed the fluid out of it’s body and into the wings, effectively expanding and “inflating” them. The butterfly the naturalist “helped” came out quickly–and with saggy, flacid wings and an overweighted body incapable of flight.
It turns out, the struggle was not only not meaningless–it was necessary.
It’s tempting when you see someone going through a difficult time to want to short-circuit the process. Especially if it’s a situation you’ve been through yourself. But you can’t just go sticking holes in other folks’ cocoons. When you do that, you don’t just cheat for them, you cheat them.
Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to help people who are going through a hard time. It means be smart about it, and aware that sometimes helping isn’t really helping.
Cloud and Townsend write in Boundaries, that in life, our troubles and struggles are either knapsacks or boulders. Knapsacks are the things that are a part of life, which are ours to carry. Boulders are those big things that could crush us if we tried to handle them under our own power. We run into trouble when we start trying to carry other people’s knapsacks, or refuse to ask for help with our own boulders.
Well, I’ve been guilty of both in life, but I’m learning.