In a BBC News Magazine report, “Can kindness movements make a difference?”, by Sam Judah, Sam wrote, “Picking up litter. Buying someone in need a coffee. Or just doling out free hugs. There’s a growing movement of people doing nice things for strangers, but do they make for a kinder society?”
Sometimes what we did may seem so small and insignificant, especially in our own eyes, and not really worth a mention, but believe me, no act of kindness or goodness done is ever too small; it can definitely make a world of difference, not only in the receiver but also in you, the doer and giver. If one must link a rationale to perform an random act of kindness, then it must be that doing it makes us happy. I think that is power enough reason for me to do it; recognition is not needed from anyone.
Have you come across Loren Eiseley’s 16-page essay “The Star Thrower,” which was published in 1969 in The Unexpected Universe? The story describes the narrator walking along the beach early one morning in the pre-dawn twilight, when he sees a man picking up a starfish off the sand and throwing it into the sea. An excerpts:
In a pool of sand and silt a starfish had thrust its arms up stiffly and was holding its body away from the stifling mud.
“It’s still alive,” I ventured.
“Yes,” he said, and with a quick yet gentle movement he picked up the star and spun it over my head and far out into the sea. It sunk in a burst of spume, and the waters roared once more.
… “There are not many who come this far,” I said, groping in a sudden embarrassment for words. “Do you collect?”
“Only like this,” he said softly, gesturing amidst the wreckage of the shore. “And only for the living.” He stooped again, oblivious of my curiosity, and skipped another star neatly across the water. “The stars,” he said, “throw well. One can help them.” – The Star Thrower, p. 172
Perhaps, I am sure, you would have already heard or read the story as adapted and retold by motivational speakers and on internet sites. In these adaptions, the conversation is related between other characters, an older man and a younger one, a wise man and a little girl, etc.
The Star Thrower Story by Joel Barker
Once upon a time, there was a wise man, much like Eiseley himself, who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work. One day he was walking along the shore. As he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day. So he began to walk faster to catch up. As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn’t dancing, but instead he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean.
As he got closer, he called out, “Good morning! What are you doing?” The young man paused, looked up and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
“I guess I should have asked, Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”
“The sun is up and the tide is going out. And if I don’t throw them in they’ll die.”
“But young man, don’t you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can’t possibly make a difference!”
The young man listened politely. Then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves. “It made a difference for that one!”
Indeed, as the wise man said, “… there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can’t possibly make a difference” We do have to be realistic and we mustn’t be naive too. We have to realise that we can’t possibly ‘save all the starfish.’ However, if we can save some, why not? At least to the ones you throw into the sea, you make a world of difference for them.
Would you buy someone a cup of suspended coffee?
Photo credit: Ben Rogers