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I Killed a Butterfly and This Is What I Learned

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

A cliché? Sure. Yet a childhood experience with a similar connotation has had both a traumatic and inspirational impact on me. 

An outing with my mom to a park near my house was a regular routine in the summer before elementary school. One day, I was thrilled to see a yellowish cocoon nestled on the twig among bushes. The head of a butterfly was sticking out of a hole at one end of the cocoon. Marvelling at the scene, I was constantly watching it with acute childhood curiosity. The chance of seeing the metamorphosis with my own eyes exhilarated me.

As the sun was setting, what worried me most was that the butterfly was halfway through the hole, and it seemed to be stuck in the narrow opening. Its painful struggle pained me, too. As darkness set in, Mom and I had to make a decision to handle the situation. In the end, we gingerly plucked it and took it home. Out of pure sympathy, we took out a pair of scissors and carefully cut the opening so that the stuck butterfly could end its seemingly excruciating struggle.

To our utter dismay, a butterfly with a pair of puny wings was lying on the table without the strength to move — neither crawling nor fluttering its wings. We were expecting some kind of miracle, but the next morning we found a dead butterfly.

The mishap struck us mercilessly. Mom went to the library the next day and brought back a book. She explained this to me: no matter how painful it looks, the butterfly’s struggle to get out of the cocoon is an essential part of the life process that a butterfly needs to go through in order to be able to change, to fly, and to live.

At the age of six, I was completely baffled by the incident, not knowing what to think. All I had wanted was to sincerely offer my help, but my good intentions caused an irreversible tragedy.

The profound lesson I learned, agonizing as it was, helped me understand the world surrounding me. I was born into a family that grants me a considerable latitude to think and behave independently. Individuality, and sometimes even peculiarity, were always encouraged. I am fortunate to be what I am today; a person capable of thinking for myself and making most decisions by myself, such as choosing to struggle in various contexts alone. Taiwan’s education system is generally encouraging but still demands continuous paper drills and rote regimens in strict conformity. It tries to stuff as much “knowledge” as possible into students’ minds despite capacity limits. Many obtain “knowledge” without understanding its principles or true meaning. 

“Pulling up the seedlings to help them grow faster” is a Chinese idiom that satirizes actions of ‘‘good intentions” which actually do harm. My good intentions to help the “trapped” butterfly paved a road to early death for the butterfly. My determination to reject those good intentions has helped me achieve many accomplishments while paving a road to a healthy career for me. 

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I'm Phoebe Chen from Taipei, Taiwan, and I'm a journalism student at Boston University. I love food, traveling, movie, and fashion. My favorite food is bagel with cream cheese, so explore bagels from around the world with me! I've been to 30 countries as a huge traveler, and hopefully, my next stop will be Iceland! Looking forward to sharing my passion and interests with you!