Reality Check: The Butterfly’s Quandary

Recent snowfalls prompted me to look up some summer photos, reminders that not long ago, it was sunny, warm, and beautiful. And, it will be so again. Among those reminders was that of a butterfly who had gotten trapped in the porch.
As he was beating against the window, desperately trying to get out, it looked like he wasn’t going to make it out on his own. Therefore, I attempted to capture him in a towel so I could release him from his self-inflicted prison.
There’s a fine line between using enough pressure to contain the fragile creature, but not so much as to harm him. I use a light touch, so initially he escaped from the towel and returned to beat more frantically at the window.
From the butterfly’s perspective, I must have looked like a monster attempting to harm him, not a sweet, benevolent lady who was just trying to be helpful.
Finally, I was able to release him to the wild. He fluttered away without a backward glance. No thanks; no circling about to say, “I’ll see you around.” However, we don’t expect that from critters, do we? Just from people.
But my question today isn’t about appreciation; it’s about fear. Why did the butterfly assume harm, not help? It’s for self- protection, isn’t it? By recognizing the possibility of danger, he may escape danger before it happens.
This little story isn’t really about the butterfly, though. Some people, perhaps even ourselves, maintain a perspective of fear. We view people and events as suspicious, believing that they are out to harm us. This perspective can lead us to “beating our wings” in fear, perhaps even hurting ourselves.
But wait! We are not immune to making the opposite mistake, either. That’s when we perceive that others will act in our best interests, out of kindness and benevolence. That doesn’t always reflect the truth, does it?
The question becomes, “How do we discern help from harm? How do we determine someone’s true intentions?” Put bluntly, if we’re told, “I can help you because I know what’s best for you,” how do we know whether that’s true?
I doubt there’s a one-size-fits-all answer, but I can offer a general principle that applies to many situations. The suggestion is: Look carefully at what someone does, rather than at what they say.
Perhaps you’ve received an offer to help you manage some unhappy aspect of your life—a job or relationship or financial situation, etc.
Look at who is offering the help. How well do they follow through? Do they do what they say they will do? Or are there always excuses? Does their own life reflect the calm and control you want to see in yours? Do they live the values that they promote?
Some people are genuinely helpful and benevolent; unfortunately, others are not. For the butterfly, one episode of experiencing helpfulness from a human will likely not change his instinctive self-preserving fear. That may be just as well.
The rest of us have the choice to reach beyond our instinctive fears to assess whether something is helpful or harmful. One piece of information that can help us discern the difference is the evidence that comes from their history. Knowing how someone has behaved in the past gives us more effective information than relying solely on what they are telling us about what they will do in future.
How do you tell the difference between helpful and harmful?

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