The Not-So-Simple Life of a Starfish

Posted on December 1, 2002
Deborah Lincoln, pupil transportation director in Oregon and president of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, tells this story that she heard recently: A young man who walked the beach every day just before sunrise would come upon an old man who was picking up starfish off the beach and throwing them back into the sea. After watching this activity for many weeks, the young man decided to ask the old man about his activities. As he approached, he could see there were starfish everywhere on the beach, and the old man kept hurling them back out to sea. The young man said, “Excuse me,” but the old man barely looked up and kept up with this efforts. “Old man, why are you throwing starfish?” Without stopping, the old man answered: “Every day these starfish get swept in with the tide and soon the sun will be out and the starfish will die.” The young man watched for a few moments and then asked: “You do this every day?” The old man continued without letup. “This is futile . . . do you hear me? You can’t make a difference.” The old man picked up a starfish and threw it. The young man restated his case, a little louder, “You can’t make a difference. There are too many starfish here on this beach.” The old man smiled and said, “It sure makes a difference to this one” and tossed the starfish far into the water. Then the old man went back to work.
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