A man was walking along a beach at low tide the morning after a large storm. Thousands of starfish had been washed-up onto the beach and left stranded.
As he walked he came across a young girl carefully picking-up the starfish one by one, and carrying them back into the sea.
“What are you doing ?” the man asked.
“I’m putting these starfish back into the sea so they don’t dry out in the sun and die”, the girl answered.
“There are thousands of starfish washed-up on this beach”, said the man, “and you’re just a young girl saving one starfish at a time. What difference does it make” ?
The girl looked at the man, then put another starfish back into the water. “It made a difference to that one”, she replied.
The man stood in thought for a while. Then he began to help the girl collect starfish and put them back into the sea.
- adapted from a story by Loren Eiseley
Versions of this story are common across the internet, but are rarely properly attributed. It first appeared in ‘The Star Thrower‘, published in 1978, by Loren Eiseley, who was a scientist, poet and religious thinker.
Faced with a whole world full of problems, what difference can we as individuals possibly make ? Why would we even waste our time trying ?
The power of the story comes from the young girl’s answer – which shifts our perspective from our own, to that of the starfish.
There is also another change of perspective within the story; that of the man. Initially just an on-looker, his passive acceptance is challenged by witnessing the actions of the young girl – who has made a choice to take part and engage to try and ‘make a difference’.
Of course we can’t solve all the world’s problems, but through our actions we can make a huge difference to the lives of others.