One Starfish at a Time

The gigantic problems that flash across our TVs, magazines, and blogs every day are creating a sense of fatalism. Every day we are pulled into the world of negative megatrends. More shootings in churches. Politics gets dirtier and dirtier. Population growth rates are escalating. Non-renewable resources are disappearing. Climate changes are devastating coastlines and making weather more and more unpredictable.

Add to all this industry groups that see NGOs as adversarial troublemakers, community groups that completely distrust industry, and government that seems to be less and less capable of dealing with big issues. The net effect is a growing sense of policy paralysis, strategic complacency, and a new emerging social compact that seems to say, buddy, you’re on your own so hunker down and take care of yourself.

So in this time of resentment and umbrage, one of the harder questions is how to stay reasonably buoyant and make positive contributions. Here’s one answer that traces its origins to Loren Eiseley, a gifted anthropologist, educator, philosopher, and natural scientist, who taught and from the 1950s through the 1970s.

One morning an old man was walking on a nearby beach after a big storm had passed by and saw the shore littered with dead and dying starfish as far as the eye could see. Off in the distance, he noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused once in a while, picked up one of the starfish and threw it into the sea.

When the boy came closer, they had the following conversation:

Old Man:    “Good morning!  May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

Young Boy:    “Well, I’m throwing some of the starfish back into the ocean. The tide washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves and when the sun gets high, they will die, unless I get them back in the water.”

Old Man:    “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 another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled, and said: “It made a difference to that one!”

We still have starfish throwers and we count ourselves in that group. Be one too.

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