The Starfish Parable
By Susan Levy
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 he was walking along the shore. As he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day. So, he began to walk faster to catch up. As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn’t dancing, but instead he was reaching down to the sand, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean. As he got closer he called out “Good morning! What are you doing?” The young man paused, looked up and replied ”Throwing starfish in the ocean.” “I guess I should have asked, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” “The sun is up and the tide is out. And, if I don’t throw them in, they’ll die. “But young man, don’t you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can’t possibly make a difference!” The young man listened politely. Then he bent down. Picked another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves and said “It made a difference for that one.”
I read this many years ago and never forgot it. When I think of it and replace the starfish with a fellow human being, it speaks to me of kindness and empathy. It reminds me that I can make a difference in this world if I choose to.
If I can “get out of myself”, I am able to see more than my own limited perspective of any situation. I found this to be immeasurably useful in managing my anger.
If I am cut off by another driver, bumped into by a fellow shopper or snapped at by a coworker, I can pause and consider. Perhaps that person just lost a loved one. Could they be going through a painful divorce? Did they just lose their job? It definitely helps me to control the use of my anger when I pause to consider the other person’s point of view (empathize). It only takes a moment and can save a moment, a relationship or a life.