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The Star Thrower

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what you are doing?”

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”

The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”

adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley

We all have the opportunity and power to help create change, but it can be hard if you find yourself thinking 'what difference can I make?'; or 'nothing is going to change'. This is particularly true in situations where decisions that impact us are made by others - our parents, our boss, or the government, for example.

The trick is to think about what we CAN change, not what we CAN'T change.

Stephen Covey, author of the 'Seven Habits of Highly Effective People' identifies two different types of people: reactive and proactive. Reactive people worry or complain about things over which they have little or no control, while proactive people focus on things they can control.

In life, many of the problems and challenges we face are outside our direct control and being reactive can be ineffective and simply make us feel more frustrated. But that doesn't mean we need to sit back and take whatever comes our way. It means we need to be proactive instead.

Proactive people focus their time and energy on the things they can influence. Sometimes this means identifying who has responsibility or decision-making authority over a problem, and raising it with them; sometimes it means having difficult conversations with people. Sometimes it means maintaining our sovereignty and staying true to our values through our actions.

Often when I'm working with clients, they say they feel powerless to change their situation or resolve problems, and I find it helpful to tell them the story of the star thrower to show that you might not be able to change the entire world in one fell swoop, but you can change a small part of it, for someone. And every small step you take towards positive change is contributing to a bigger shift in awareness and behaviour. By being the change we want to see in the world, we have the power to show the way for others and create the kind of world we want to live in.

Joss Anderson is a qualified and experienced Shamanic Practitioner, Shamanic Reiki Master Practitioner and ICF-accredited coach, based in Cambridgeshire, UK and online.

© Joss Anderson 2021; © The Wild Edges, 2021

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