Starfish Therapeutic Story

This story is addressed primarily to persons who find themselves holding a standard for meaningfulness that says, “unless the doing of something represents a grand and glorious and earthshaking accomplishment, it isn’t worth doing.”  

While perhaps they have never explicitly articulated this, they find themselves, in the face of everyday mundane activities or projects, reluctant to do them since they seem so trivial and unimportant.

 

A man is walking down the beach early one morning. He notices that thousands and thousands of starfish have been washed up on the beach by the tide, and are now stranded and dying. As he walks on, he sees a little girl who is going around, picking up starfish, and flinging them with all her might back into the water. He goes up to her just as she is about to fling another and, stopping her, says, ‘Little girl, you’re wasting your time. Can’t you see that there are thousands of starfish here and that it’s impossible to get them all back into the ocean. You can’t begin to make a difference.’ The little girl, after pausing to hear the man out, shrugs and flings the starfish in her hand into the ocean. “I made a difference to that one,” she says (adapted from Eiseley, 1979).


This story is addressed primarily to persons who find themselves holding a standard for meaningfulness that says, “unless the doing of something represents a grand and glorious and earthshaking accomplishment, it isn’t worth doing.” While perhaps they have never explicitly articulated this, they find themselves, in the face of everyday mundane activities or projects, reluctant to do them since they seem so trivial and unimportant.

Commentary. An old saying has it that “It’s the measuring stick that kills.” If we pose as our standard for some course of action being worth doing that it must accomplish something on a grand scale, the danger arises that nothing is deemed worth doing, we fail to act, our lives are rendered more impoverished, and the lives of those around us suffer from our paralysis and our grandiosity.

If, in contrast, we recognize the value in more modest endeavors, our lives, our ability to act, our sense of meaningfullness, and the lives of others all benefit. If one can change the world for the better, by all means change it.

But if, like the overwhelming majority of humankind, one cannot, it is critically important to recognize the value in benefitting one’s little corner of the world, and to act on that. In the words of Mother Teresa, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

Personal Transformation
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