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Shelling along the edge of a sea, a man catches sight of a young woman who appears to be engaged in a ritual dance. She stoops down, then straightens to her full height, casting her arm in an open arc. Drawing closer he sees that the beach around her is littered with starfish and she is throwing them one by one into the sea. He lightly mocks her, “There are stranded starfish as far as the eye can see, for miles up the beach. What difference can saving a few of them make?” Smiling, she bends down and once more tosses a starfish out over the water saying serenely, “It certainly makes a difference to this one.”

Starfish BeachThis parable, recounted from one of my favorite books The Art of Possibility by Roz & Ben Zander is the reason I chose to develop this blog. It deftly describes the essence of making a difference. It turns the abstract concept of something like world peace into the more possible action of being at peace with your neighbor.

This column is about starting a dialog around things that I feel appeal to that sense of wanting to make a difference; whether it is the broad topic of leadership, the esoteric thoughts around higher ground thinking or the detail of overcoming a small obstacle.

I’ve come to realize that some of my favorite moments in life have started when simply connecting with another person about something we were both passionate about. Since I am writing about my passion, I have at least made it possible to find a starfish. But finding a starfish is only the start.

In the original, much darker story of the stranded starfish, called the Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley it becomes clear the dual motivation for tossing the starfish back into the sea.

“But we, pale and alone and small in that immensity, hurled back the living stars. I could have thrown in a frenzy of joy, but I set my shoulders and cast, as the thrower in the rainbow cast, slowly, deliberately, and well. The task was not to be assumed lightly, for it was men as well as starfish that we sought to save.”

So while this column is to help find starfish, it is equally critical to improving the star thrower.

If you would like another take on the Starfish theory, check out Andy Stanley’s incredible message One, Not Everyone.

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  • I look forward to seeing all you have to share Joe! We have forgotten as a society that doing what is right is a goal in itself and needs no other reward.

  • http://higginbottom.com Paul

    Great idea. But know that you have already helped many starfish, including me. :)

  • http://sigarangalainokki.wordpress.com Uma Kandaswamy

    I loved reading your latest few blog entries and started wondering such a positive learning spirit, but why a stranded star fish title.. Now i understand :)So looking forward to work and learn with you.

  • Jim P

    Have you read “The Star Thrower,” an essay by Loren Eiseley, published in 1969 in a collection of essays entitled “The Unexpected Universe”? If you haven’t read Eiseley, you’re in for a treat.

    wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Star_Thrower

    • http://www.TheStrandedStarfish.com joe

      I have read the Star Thrower story but never the book. I’ve just ordered a copy. Thank you for the excellent reference, Jim.

      Interestingly enough a lot of people credit the story above to Eiseley, but if you read Eiseley’s story it is not the same. It doesn’t have the same ending. While loosely based on THe Star Thrower, it was Joel Barker that developed the turn of the story about making a difference..

      Eiseley’s story talks about how the starfish almost seemed designed to be helped – “The stars throw well. You can help them.”

      My favorite line is when someone asks the Star Thrower whether they collect the starfish and he responds “I do not collect neither the living nor the dead. Death is the only successful collector.”

      Thanks again Jim – I can’t wait to read the rest of the book.

  • jenn danbury

    so, i finally hit your blog and actually for this being (yes believe it or not) my first time on a blog, i absolutely loved reading your rants/ its like your the jerry seinfeld of this piece of cyber world.

    Do you ever take suggestions on pontificating :). Next time i think of something fantastically obvious that I know everyone understands, i will ping you and maybe with your artistry it can become something truly fantastic.

    Hope your well.