The Butterfly Story (Author Unknown)
I was jogging one evening in the park and came to rest, as was my custom, by a large rock. There I noticed a cocoon on the tree close by, and at that very moment, a butterfly was emerging from the cocoon. As I watched the butterfly struggle, I got the idea, “gee, this is a tremendous symbol for what I do as a minister and counselor: help people out of their bonds. I help them fly.”
So I reached up and very, very carefully began helping the butterfly to escape the small hole he had eaten in the cocoon, laid it on the rock close by and watched as the butterfly started to stretch its wings. I felt very happy about stumbling upon this miraculous scene and decided to use this story as the subject for my next sermon. I was greatly excited by this thought and before the day was out I had completed the sermon.
That same evening when I was running again I stopped by the same rock and saw the cocoon and, sure enough, the butterfly was off the rock and had fallen to the ground. I was stunned. I thought perhaps a bird or another insect had attacked it; but I examined it and there didn’t seem to be anything damaged on the butterfly; it was just dead.
I was very upset about this, and I went home to look in my encyclopedias to try and determine what had happened. What I found out was that it is the struggle that the butterfly makes by forcing its way out of its cocoon and eating its way through its own bounds that enables it to gain enough strength to emerge whole and strong. The very action of fighting its way through the cocoon is what gives it the strength to fly.
The fact that I had tried to help by assisting the butterfly out of its cocoon had only made matters worse; I had, in fact, limited the butterfly’s ability and strength and the butterfly was unable to fly on its own. By helping too much I had enabled the butterfly out of its bounds, yes, but in the process, I had killed it. The sense of my sermon changed. I began to realize how it is that people must not only be willing but also must do the work themselves to become more whole and complete. (Taken from Conscious Communication by Miles Sherts, pg 67)
We find The Butterfly Story to be a beautiful metaphor for communicating as leaders or parents. So often as leaders (both informal or formal) we do things for people thinking we are helping, or because it’s easier. As leaders of organizations, how many of you tell others what to do or do tasks for those who work with you with the intention of helping or getting them to the end result quicker? What are they learning from that? How is it strengthening them as future leaders and building innovation in your organization? Like the Butterfly, adults are self directed learners and having things done for us, or told to us, disempowers and handicaps our abilities.
As parents, how many of you do things for your kids that they are capable of doing, or learning, on their own? How many of you tell your kids what to do when they have the ability to figure it out themselves? This messages that as parents we believe that our kids are not capable of problem solving, we hinder their critical thinking, their growth, and their strength. We expect them to be self-reliant, mature, confident, capable individuals, yet we rarely give them the space or tools to grow into such people.
Like the man wanting to help the butterfly, we believe that people have the best intentions when wanting to “help” others. We ask you to bring a new kind of awareness to situations when offering to “help”. As leaders, how can you support those you work with so they are in control of problem solving and creating their own solutions? Not only will this model message trust to those who work with you that you believe they are capable of finding their own solutions, thus building those relationships, it is the first step in collaboration, which leads to what all organizations want – innovation. As parents, how can you empower and support your child to do things for themselves or solve their own challenges that may arise? Again, this builds trust and messages to your child that you believe they are capable, they have the tools to solve their own solutions and your child will hear from you that they are enough – building confidence, self-esteem, and giving them the courage to take risks.
Through listening and asking open questions one can facilitate learning much more powerfully than telling or doing something for another person. It may not be easy as the role of the leader and the other person may not be quick to solve their problem or complete their task. However, like the butterfly – it’s the process that gives us strength and allows us to learn making us complete people in the end. It creates stronger, wiser, collaborative and innovative organizations, as well as strong, loving, nourishing and collaborative families. Nourishing conversations not only empower ourselves they empower others.
What’s your Butterfly Story experience? What did you learn from it?