Jul 142011
Starfish by Buck82

The Starfish Story by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, so he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects and throwing them into the ocean.

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.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To 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 wise man 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!”

As if he hadn’t heard, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he turned, smiled and said, “I made a difference to that one!”

Making a Difference

There is much pain and suffering in this world. Yet it does not take much to make a difference or to bring happiness into the lives of people. Just look at the example of the Duchess Catherine. Her mere presence alone brought immense joy into the life of little Diamond Marshall. You see Diamond, who is only 6 years old, suffers from cancer. And when the Duchess found out that it was Diamond’s fondest wish to meet a real life princess, she made it come through. I believe this act went some way in helping to give Diamond the strength and courage to face her upcoming battle.

In truth, we all have the power to make a difference in the lives of others. And the good thing is that we do not need a big and dramatic gesture to make a difference. As the starfish story and the example of the Duchess Catherine shows, the little things matter. It could be a kind word, hug or a listening ear when someone needs it the most. Or it could be the giving of our time to help someone out. Even gratitude can make a difference because it lets others know we appreciate them and the difference they made in our lives. If each one of us made five people happy each day, the world would be a much happier place.

Taking Action

How else can we make a difference in the lives of others? Do share your thoughts and comments below! :)

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  26 Responses to “I Made a Difference to That One”

  1. Hi Irving,

    Oh, I love this story! Thanks so much for sharing it. I’d heard it years ago (can’t remember where) and I think of it often when I do some small thing (often for an animal or even a bug) that I might have previously thought was not worth it, but do now.

    I think your sharing of this will encourage more people to be kind. Thank you!
    Patti Foy | Lightspirited Being recently posted..How to See the Clear Guidance Right Under Your NoseMy Profile

    • Hi Patti,

      Yes, I do like this story and it never fails to warm my heart because it reminds me that the little things in life matter. What might seem small and unimportant to one could well be a lifesaver and a difference maker to another.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  2. This is a great story! Sometimes when we feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of a problem–hunger, homelessness, natural disasters like Katrina or the tsunami, war, etc–we feel incapable of making a difference. This story shows that helping one hungry child, cleaning up one small area after a tornado, volunteering one day, or even one hour, can make a difference.

    When the announcement went out about my retirement, I heard from several former students who told me about something I had said or done to help them or encourage them. I sometimes didn’t remember but they did. It made a difference. Hearing their stories impressed upon me once again the importance of noticing those opportunities we have to say a kind word, lend a helping hand, offer a listening ear, or just a smile.

    I’m going to look for a little starfish to put on my desk to remind me of this story!
    Galen Pearl recently posted..Finding LoveMy Profile

    • Hi Galen,

      The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. That is the way it is for all areas of life. So we should always be ready to do little things for others where we can because it doesn’t cost us much effort anyway. But for those who happen to be the recipient of our kindness at the right place and time, it can indeed make a world of difference in their lives.

      And one way of knowing we have lived our lives well is to know that we have helped many. Because in doing so, our presence here on Earth has made a special difference. I am sure that there are many people out there whose lives you touched that you may not even be aware of. And in your own way, you’ve presence is beneficial to all who cross your path. :)

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  3. That’s a wonderful heart-warming story (actually two wonderful stories). To me helping others fosters real connection and intimacy and there is no better feeling. Helping is usually a win/win situation; all parties benefit.
    Riley Harrison recently posted..KILLING TIME SHOULD BE A FELONYMy Profile

    • Hi Riley,

      You’re right. Helping others does foster a real connection and intimacy. Life is abundant enough for us to have win/win situations all around if only we take the time to find a way to make all parties benefit.

      I initially did not think of the starfish story. I started out with the story of Duchess Catherine in mind. But as I reflected on the article, the starfish story came to mind to add greater depth to my post. It just seemed natural to combine both stories to get my points across. Why settle for one heartwarming story when we can have two?

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  4. I love the starfish story! That reminds me of a professor I once had who would go around picking up garbage strewn about the campus if he happened upon it, and encouraged us all to do the same. I am so happy if I can help one person every day. Can’t solve it all but I can do my part. I always especially like to give away books to the library for their sales or to Goodwill…never know who will find it and love it :)

    • Hi Julie,

      That is a lovely example by your professor on the difference that each of us can make to beautify this world. All of us are responsible for the state of this world. So each action and choice that we make, no matter how small matters.

      We can’t solve all the problems on our own as you say, but we can still do our part. And if each of us does our part, the collective impact will be that much greater.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  5. What a wonderful story :) Spreading our love to others one person at a time can help so many people. Even if it is just a smile that has brightened someone’s day. Just like the movie “Pay It Forward”

    Thank you Irving!

    • Hi Kenya,

      Yes. The beautiful thing about spreading our love to others one person at a time is that it radiates outwards from them as well. Even though what we do may well be a small thing, the impact it has may just snowball into something greater and larger than we can imagine.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  6. Vizier – I thought it was a story about you after I read the first 2 lines. Is it, by the way? lol – not sure if you live by an ocean.

    Absolutely – little things matter – and the power of the little things is that anyone can do them. small actions can have a big impact.

    • Hi Vishnu,

      Glad to see you stop by! :)

      Haha, nah I don’t live by the ocean and certainly do not have the habit of walking by the ocean.

      You’re perfectly right though. Small actions can have a big impact and we should never overlook the power of small actions. While not all of us can do big things, each of us can do little things. And that is empowering in itself to each of us.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  7. I’ve heard the starfish story Irving, and it never fails to bring a smile to my face. One thing at a time, we can make the world a better place.

    Have you ever seen Schindler’s List? Liam Neeson’s character seeks to help free the Jews from the oppression of the Nazis, and although he achieved a lot in this respect, near the end of the film he breaks down in tears, and says, “I could have done more”. Anguished by his perception of failure at not helping more Jews, he keeps repeating that sentence.

    Then one of the Jews simply says, “You have done enough.”

    Powerful stuff. Thanks for reminding me of that scene today Irving :-)
    Stuart recently posted..25 Things About The New 25-Year OldMy Profile

    • Hi Stuart,

      Everything that is done well and lasting is done one thing at a time.

      Yes I particularly enjoyed Schindler’s List. It is a movie with heavy themes during a particularly dark period in human history. But such things appeal to me because there is much to learn from the choices made under such circumstances. It’s not how much we can do but that we do all we can. Then we can rest easy and have less regrets.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  8. First-class Irving. As always. I don’t think it matters how small is the gesture or action or thought. If it comes unbidden so to speak from our true center, the genuine, spontaneous core of ourself it will inevitably bless the world. Who knows the ultimate ramifications of such a minor thing as a smile?
    Christopher Foster recently posted..How I fell in love with writing as the bombs were fallingMy Profile

    • Hi Christopher,

      Yes I agree fully with you. Like ripples in a pond, something as small and as simple as a smile can have untold effect on the world. Who knows the ultimate ramifications of a minor thing like a smile indeed? If we could see and trace its impact, we might well be shocked at the end result. So let us never forget that the little things in life matter and we need more of them in this world.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  9. Irving: So true and such a great message. We don’t have to think we need to make huge sweeping changes to really make a difference. A lot of times that can be overwhelming and we end up not doing anything. We can just do the little things with sincerity and when we do, we really can contribute in such an important way.

    • Hi Sibyl,

      It is hard to sustain large and sweeping changes over a long period of time. The effort to maintain such extremes is beyond most of us. As you rightly point out, it can be overwhelming and we might not end up taking action as a result. But anyone can do the little things with sincerity and consistency. This is the best way to contribute in a positive and important way.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  10. Irving,

    This was great. Its not about how great the deed is that benefit comes form the action, no matter what it may be. I have adopted the premise that if I don’t do it no one else will. It gives me the confidence to push through whatever odds that are causing me to be inactive. It’s about making a splash in a huge pond. Hopefully others will see your splash and start to make their own and then we will have a rainstorm of activity on our hands. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Frank,

      The premise that if you don’t do it, no one else will is a good one. It reminds you that you are responsible for what goes on around you in life. And your example might just be what is needed to nudge everyone else into action as well. When everyone acts, we will have a rainstorm of activity on our hands as you say.

      Thank you for your lovely comments! :)

  11. We certainly can make a difference to the lives of others. While we often hope to do something extraordinary, we can also start with the little things. Like with our family members for instance. If we can even be kind or say encouraging words to the people closest to us on an everyday basis, we would have succeeded.
    Evelyn Lim recently posted..21 Makeover Tips To Lift Your EnergyMy Profile

    • Hi Evelyn,

      Little things done consistently over a period of time can become something extraordinary. It’s just that we are too close to see the big picture. If we take a step back, we will marvel at what the little things can achieve. If we say a kind or encouraging word to our family members daily, I am sure the family will be closer and happier.

      Thank you for your lovely comments! :)

  12. Irving,

    I love the Starfish story. Thanks for sharing it here. I also enjoyed the video.

    I rarely see 5 people in a day so I will have to think a bit about how I can add more happiness to other peoples’ lives. I will definitely be looking for opportunities when I go out in the world. I hope my blog inspires a few now and then.
    Sandra / Always Well Within recently posted..What Makes You Feel Better?My Profile

    • Hi Sandra,

      I am sure you can think of creative ways to bring more happiness to other people’s lives. Your blog and its articles is definitely a good medium to reach out to others.

      Thank you for your lovely comments! :)

  13. This is one of those great stories about giving back. We only need to help one person or life at a time, and that is sufficient in this world. I guess that what we are all capable of right?

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