Making a difference one starfish at a time

Uncategorized Jul 15, 2020

In today’s world there is so much discord, fear and loneliness. It’s hard to see how we can make it better for ourselves, our family and our communities. Where do you even begin? Why bother, we are only one person and there is so much to overcome.

I keep remembering the starfish story. 

Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching.  As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea.  The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning!  May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”

The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Smiling, he then turned and told the man “I made a difference to that one!” adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)

 This story reminds me that while I can’t fix everything in the world, I can make a difference one person at a time. It gives me the power to act, even in a limited way, since helping one person leads to another person helped and then another and so on. That is powerful and manageable.

What can you do today to help someone else? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Speak out against gossip about others. Stop the harmful chatter about others by changing the topic, saying “we shouldn’t be speaking about them that way”, “I don’t want to be part of this kind of conversation.” Whatever works for you.
  2. Catch someone doing good. If you see someone who did well on anything, call it out. Say thank you for a job well done, congratulations on their success, way to go on helping another. It can be something small that often goes unnoticed.
  3. Lend an ear or shoulder. If you suspect someone is going through a rough time right now, ask them how they are handling things and then LISTEN closely. They may not want any advice or solutions. So many people want to voice their frustrations but fear judgement or don’t want to distress another. Be a sounding board.
  4. Be kind by suspending judgement. You may look at something another person did and wonder how they could be so stupid / ignorant / self-centered. Too often people are saying “well they got what they deserve”. That is the equivalent of wishing someone ill. We need kindness, if you find yourself thinking about what “they deserve” stop and think “I hope all ends well for them”.
  5. Agree to disagree. We are not going to agree with everything people think, say or do and that’s okay. The richness of life comes from variety and new perspectives. You don’t have to agree with another person’s opinions, no one can make you agree. Let them go on with their day without being told they are wrong, bad or stupid for their ideas.

We can’t fix everything ourselves, and yet if each of us reaches out to another with kindness we can make an enormous difference in the world. Start with one starfish, it will make a difference.


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