Tag Archives: starfish

Making no difference


This is a story I heard recently for the first time (paraphrased):

A man is walking on a beach. He sees another man making motions that at first are hard to figure out. Then, as the first man comes closer, he sees that there are thousands of starfish on the beach, and the second man is carefully throwing them, one by one, into the ocean. The tide is already going out. The thousands of stranded starfish will die.

The first man points this out to the second one, the thrower. He says the thrower’s efforts will not make any difference; he cannot save more than a tiny fraction of all the starfish.

The thrower, holding one starfish in his hand, says: “It makes a difference to this one.”


I have not been able to forget this story. It comes back to me often, sometimes more than once in one day. So I did some research and discovered that it’s a very abbreviated version of an essay by Loren C. Eiseley, an anthropologist and science writer, titled “The Star Thrower.” Now, apparently, the original does not include this stunning conclusion (and in fact concludes much later, after the first man goes through all kinds of personal reflection).

I think about this — making a difference to one — whenever I feel overwhelmed about poverty and all the other ills that make so many people suffer all around the world.