The starfish story

While walking along a beach, an elderly gentleman saw someone in the distance leaning down, picking something up and throwing it into the ocean. As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, picking up starfish one by one and tossing each one gently back into the water. He came closer still and called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.” The old man smiled, and said, “I must ask, then, why are you doing this?” The young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the elderly observer commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!” The young man listened politely. Then he bent down, picked up another starfish, threw it into the back into the ocean past the breaking waves and said, “It made a difference for that one.” (author unknown)

Saving the starfish

There’s a story that one day a boy was walking along the seashore. A lot of starfish were being washed up by the waves. They were slowly dying because they were being exposed to the air. He started picking up the starfish one by one and flinging them back into the ocean. A man comes walking by and he sees the little boy doing this. He says ‘Look at all these other starfish. You’re not helping them at all. You’re not making a difference in their lives.” The little boy said “I just made a difference in this one’s life.”

“What we focus on expands”, Oprah Winfrey says. It is very hard when you’re a compassionate or empathetic person. We tend to notice all the people we weren’t able to help. And while it is important to acknowledge loss, it is also important to not focus on just the bad. We have to open ourselves up and intentionally and consciously point ourselves towards that which we are doing which is helping.

We can’t save them all. We can’t help them all. But we are just one part of a huge ocean of people who are helping. We are not alone. We can’t all be Mother Teresa. But she didn’t do it alone either. She had hundreds of nuns working with her whose names we don’t know. Each one of them helped who she was given to help that day. Each one of them did what she could to make that person’s life better. She didn’t do it all but together they did.

If we focus on what we can’t do or who we haven’t saved then we lose energy. If we can help one person, it makes a difference in that person’s life. If we don’t help, locked up in our worry about all that we can’t do, then we’ll do even less.

Help who you can. Leave the rest for others to help. That gives them the joy of helping. By leaving something for others to do, you’ve actually given them a gift. Each of us wants to feel needed. A lot of people feel needed by helping others. When you do it all, you are taking away someone’s task. So you are actually doing a good deed by not doing it all.