Making a Difference


Once a man was walking along a beach. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day.

Off in the distance he could see a little girl going back and forth between the surf’s edge and the beach. Back and forth she went. As the man approached, he could see here throwing starfish into the ocean. He could also see that there were hundreds of starfish stranded on the sand as a result of the natural action of the tide. The man was struck by the the apparent futility of the task. There were far too many starfish. Many of them were sure to perish.

As he approached, the little girl continued the task of picking up starfish one by one and throwing them into the surf. As he came up to her he said, “You must be crazy. There are thousands of miles of beach covered with starfish. You can’t possibly make a difference.” She looked at the man and then stooped down to pick up one more starfish and threw it back into the ocean. She turned back to the man and said, “It sure made a difference for that one!”

“The Star Thrower” (or “Starfish Story”) is part of a sixteen page essay of the same name by Loren Eiseley (1907–1977). It was first published in 1969 in The Unexpected Universe.

I heard this story many years ago and thought I would re-publish it here on my blog for all those who have never heard of it. This is my version of the story. It has been told and re-told thousands of times in different ways, but always with the same message: the power of the individual to make a difference in this world.

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