Joel Barker, a Futurist, has been a favourite thinker of mine for many years. His way of seeing the world with new eyes, his openness to possibility has inspired me to dream and explore the world. In times of unprecedented change we can be forgiven for feeling scared or worried. We can find ourselves looking backwards at the ‘good ‘ol days’ instead of forwards. We can feel closed to opportunity instead of seeing new possibilities as liberating.
Rather than dwell on the past and become nostalgic I propose we breathe deeply and take a look into the future to see what is possible. As Marcel Proust once said “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
Therefore over this holiday weekend I would like to share with you Joel Barker’s ‘The Star Thrower Story’.
Joel writes that this story was inspired by the writing of Loren Eiseley. He goes on to say that Eiseley was a very special person because he combined the best of two cultures. He was a scientist and a poet. And from those two perspectives he wrote insightfully and beautifully about the world and our role in it.
“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!”
His response surprised the man. He was upset. He didn’t know how to reply. So instead, he turned away and walked back to the cottage to begin his writings.
All day long as he wrote, the image of the young man haunted him. He tried to ignore it, but the vision persisted. Finally, late in the afternoon he realized that he the scientist, he the poet, had missed out on the essential nature of the young man’s actions. Because he realized that what the young man was doing was choosing not to be an observer in the universe and make a difference. He was embarrassed.
That night he went to bed troubled. When the morning came he awoke knowing that he had to do something. So he got up, put on his clothes, went to the beach and found the young man. And with him he spent the rest of the morning throwing starfish into the ocean. You see, what that young man’s actions represent is something that is special in each and everyone of us. We have all been gifted with the ability to make a difference. And if we can, like that young man, become aware of that gift, we gain through the strength of our vision the power to shape the future.’
In times when changes rife and you don’t feel you can contribute effectively, remember that every small action makes a difference to yours and our collective future.
And in Joel Barkers’ words: ‘And that is your challenge. And that is my challenge. We must each find our starfish. And if we throw our stars wisely and well, I have no question that the 21st century is going to be a wonderful place.’
Remember everybody lives by selling something.