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Making a Difference
Jan 1, 1997

Harold Hilton is a history professor at a university in California, a knowledgeable and well-respected scholar in his field. Every summer vacation, he goes to visit a different historic site somewhere in the world. Last year he decided to go to Bodrum, a city on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. Because of its location, Bodrum has had a very long and rich, varied history, and you can still see some old castles and ruins there.

Harold stayed at a good hotel near the beach. He woke up very early on the first morning and decided to go out for a walk along the beach before breakfast. Out on the beach, he watched the beautiful sunrise out to sea. As he walked on, he noticed many starfish on the beach - they must have been carried there by the tide the previous night and had got stranded. He felt sorry for them because they could not survive long out of the water. Thinking that there was nothing he could do about the plight of the starfish, he went on with his walk.

Then, the professor saw a young man in the distance. He too was walking along the beach but, every now and then, the young man seemed to stop walking and go through a series of odd movements. Perhaps he is doing some sort of morning exercise, Harold thought. Curious, he walked towards the young man and noted that his movements consisted of bending down, straightening up and flinging his arm out toward the sea. Now, the professor was of the opinion that the young man was engaged in a ritual that entailed picking up something from the beach and throwing it into the sea. From his clothes the young man seemed to be from the rural areas, he definitely was not a city dweller.

Harold approached the young man and asked him what he was doing.

‘I am throwing starfish into the sea,’ was the simple reply. ‘As you know, they can’t survive for very long out of the sea.’

‘But there are hundreds of them all along the shore,’ said the professor. ‘And throwing them one by one doesn’t really achieve anything. Do you think it makes any difference?’

The young man bent down and picked up another starfish. He threw it into the sea, looked at the professor and said: ‘It made a difference to that starfish.’

Harold was touched and impressed. He felt rather ashamed that, for all his learning and academic achievement, he was not as conscious of responsibility to the environment - as this simple young man was.

So he too bent down, picked up a starfish and tossed it back into the sea. Every morning for the rest of his holiday, the professor joined the young man on the beach. And together they threw starfish into the sea, trying to make as much difference as they could.