A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up and throw it back into the ocean.
People watched her with amusement. She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”
The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!”
What comes to mind when you read this story? For those who are cynical by nature, “futility” may be the word. To others, the symbolism of making a difference is represented in the actions of the young woman who was doing what she could to make a difference.
As we pass another anniversary of the September 11th attacks, we are reminded of the sacrifices and actions of human beings that day in efforts to make a difference. While that human experience was massive, the often smaller experiences in our lives are just as meaningful.
I challenge you to explore answers to two questions: When have you made a difference in someone else’s life? When has someone made a difference in your life? A few weeks ago, I was forwarded a YouTube video entitled “This is Water”. The title alone intrigued me, a video about what water is? Portioned from a commencement speech that David Foster Wallace gave at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, it highlights a few key messages: There is power in choice. There is power in thinking. There is power in recognizing the needs of others.
Clear and meaningful messages not just for new graduates, but for everyone.
Will and effort. Two forces that, combined, can propel human beings to do anything. The combination of will plus effort allows us to energize ourselves to complete tasks and do fun things. How else do you use will and effort to produce action? Do you pay attention to your surroundings? Do you make a difference to others?
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” Sometimes we pursue happiness singularly. That is, we define happiness by what is given to us, rather than what we give to others. Do you smile at the grocery clerk, and thank her by name as you leave the register? Have you helped someone, in some way, that you don’t know, simply because you wanted to make a difference?
We can all likely identify ways in which we help and care for those we know. The character challenge arises when we are given opportunities to make a difference in the lives of people that we don’t know.
Each of us can recall an event or place in time that a stranger made a difference in our lives. Maybe it was just a smile, or an act of compassion extended to us at the right moment. Consider how impactful this experience was in your life. Imagine having the ability and choice to create a similar impact in someone else’s life. How can your will and energy make a difference?
The story that I opened with was missing a crucial part: the ending. While the girl’s efforts to save some of the starfish were indeed a main theme, the larger theme is what happened next.
The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea.
Until next time, be well.
Diane Bigler is a licensed clinical social worker who lives in Platte City with her family. She may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.