Wednesday, April 15, 2009

On being a starfish rescuer

A comment on one my of my earlier posts today put me in mind of this story by Jeff Roberts (reproduced below). I had only heard it told up to the end of the fourth paragraph before, so it was an education to me to discover that that was only half the story. I'm trying to decide whether the second half adds to or detracts from the first half. What do you think?

One morning after a particularly fearsome storm, a man arose early and decided to go for a walk along the sea. As he neared the beach, the early riser saw an old man in the distance slowly, yet purposely, ambling down the shoreline. As he watched, the old man stopped, picked something up, and tossed it into the ocean. Then, the old man slowly straightened himself up, walked several more feet, stooped down, and once again picked up something, which he tossed into the sea.

Intrigued, the early riser moved closer. As he drew near, he realized suddenly what the old man was doing. Littered all down the shoreline, as far as the eye could see, were thousands upon thousands of starfish cast out from the ocean by the fury of the now-passed storm. As the early riser watched, the old man bent down, gently picked up a small, helpless starfish, and tossed it back into the ocean. He repeated the same process every few feet.

After a minute or two, the early riser approached the old man. "Good morning, sir" he said. "I couldn't help notice what you're doing. I commend you for what you're trying to do, but the storm has washed up thousands of starfish on this beach. You can't possibly save them all! What possible difference do you hope to accomplish?"

The old man paused for a long time, pondering the early riser's question. Finally, without saying a word, he bent down, picked up a starfish, and tossed it far into the ocean. "It made a difference to that one," he said.

Now, it was the early riser's turn to be silent. As he looked at the old man with growing admiration, it seemed as if the years fell away, revealing someone wise, noble, and strong enough to stand up to any challenge. Deeply moved, the early riser struggled for the right words, but none would come. At last, he too, bent down, picked up a starfish, and tossed it into the ocean. The old man, watched intently. He spoke not a word, but his nod and a wink said all that was needed. "Well," the early riser said as he looked out at the thousands of starfish stranded on the beach before them, "It looks like we've got a lot of work to do."

Just then, the two men realized they were not alone. Others out for their Saturday morning walks and jogs had witnessed what had taken place. When they saw what the old man and early riser were attempting to do, they too bent down and picked up starfish of their own. Soon, the morning sun shone down upon hundreds of good Samaritans - young, old, black, white, rich, and poor; each working diligently to save as many starfish as he or she was able. What had started out as one, had grown into an army of kindness.

Some time later, an amazing thing happened. As the last starfish was tossed into the ocean, a spontaneous cheer broke out among the starfish rescuers. People hugged and high-fived each other. Some exchanged names and numbers and promised to stay in touch. Others walked off together to share breakfast with new friends. To a person, each one felt they had done something important and had made a difference.

That morning, in the span of only two hours, five thousand starfish were saved, and hundreds of lives were transformed. All because one person cared enough to try to make a difference.

I've no doubt turned your stomach and rolled your eyes before with this assertion, but I reckon we surprise ourselves with how fulfilled we can feel when we do something selfless.

In a recent debate I had, someone was taking the view that my rights had been violated in a certain situation and couldn't understand why I wasn't as angry about it as they had been under similar circumstances. This person has been nursing that anger for almost as long as I have been alive.

My own view is that this attitude is largely what is wrong with society today. We are all so focused on 'my rights' that we become far too self-involved. If we look outward instead of inward, if we demonstrate concern for one another instead of stamping our feet like petulant toddlers who can't have their own way, if we can break out of our self-pity cycle and start to look for ways to give other people a leg-up, we find ourselves in a much better place as individuals, which inevitably has a ripple effect.

This is why I do what I do. I thrive on being the person who gets to give someone else a leg up, even if that takes them to a place I've never been and would like to go. Wendy Wickham once called me an 'evil enabler'. I am happy to own that epithet... and any others of that ilk!

I'm dead serious. This is not namby pamby, pink and fluffy New Age psychobabble - you would have to go a long way to find someone less enchanted with New Age stuff than me. This is genuinely how I live my life.... and it works! Give it a go and tell me I'm wrong.

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