As a headteacher I used to love this story and often used it as an assembly or to remind both children and staff that sometimes we make a difference by doing what we can rather than worrying about what we can’t. After all, the mighty ocean is made up of many droplets of water…
The Starfish story: one step towards changing the world
Once upon a time there was an old man who used to walk by the ocean every day before beginning his work. Early one blue, fresh 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. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)
Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?’ - Martin Luther King Jr.