The original version of this was written by Loren Eiseley, a scientist and a poet, in about 1969. It goes something like this…
Once upon a time, there was a wise man, who used to go to the ocean to write. He liked to walk on the beach before he began. One day, as he was walking, he looked along the shore and saw a figure dancing. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who danced to the day. So he began to walk faster to catch up with the dancer. As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn’t dancing, he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean.
As he got closer, the wise man called out, “Good morning! What are you doing?” The young man paused, looked up and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
“I think I should have asked, Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” said the wise man.
“The sun is up and the tide is going out, they are stranded on the sand. If I don’t throw them back in the water they’ll die.” replied the young man
“But young man, 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!”
The response surprised the man. He was upset. He didn’t know how to reply. So he turned away and walked back to begin his writing.
As he wrote, he thought about the young man. He tried to ignore it, without success. Finally, late in the day, the wise man realised that he had missed out on the essential nature of the young man’s actions. He realised that the young man was choosing not to be an observer in the universe but to go out and make a difference.
That night the wise man was troubled. In the morning he awoke knowing that he had to do something too. So he got up and went to the beach to find the young man. Together they spent the rest of the morning throwing starfish into the ocean.
We all have the chance to make a difference. We must each find our starfish, because they are worth saving, each one, one at a time if we can’t change the tide.