Why do we do what we do? I wonder at people’s motivations when help is volunteered loudly and publically. Even worse, self professed experts change all the rules because of a new “revolutionary” idea that becomes a moneymaker. True help for others comes unselfishly and sometimes at great cost for the helper. Other times it is just a simple statement or demonstration of faith. Several years ago I attended a college graduation where the commencement speaker talked at an only-half-awake crowd. She prevented their lapse into total unconsciousness with several momentary stirring thoughts. In an effort to inspire graduates to take their education seriously and challenge them to use it wisely, the first rule of graduation speaking is to throw in memorable motivational moments that will be remembered past the first graduation party. It worked. One of those inspirational anecdotes was a paraphrasing of the story “Star Thrower” by Loren Eiseley.
A young girl was walking along a beach where countless starfish had washed up during a recent storm. She picked up each starfish as she walked up to it and threw it back into the ocean. People were watching her with amusement. After she had done this several times, an old man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all the starfish. You can’t possibly make a difference!” After a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “I made a difference to that one!” The old man looked at the girl and thought for a moment about what she had said. He then picked up a starfish and joined the girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.
There is no better way to start an impossible mission than to believe that you can do something to make a difference. While being compassionate to a helpless starfish gives us hope that we can save all starfish before they die, it is a gross oversimplification to think that we can “’save” everyone in the same way. As a recruiter, I have never hired anyone; I have only provided opportunity to hiring managers to hire someone and have found candidates who could earn employment. Part of my career has also been to train individuals how to be more competitive in their job search, but ultimately it is them, not me, who brings everything to closure. Those of us who have signed on to be part of Twitter chat groups and other online social media outlets are accepting the challenge of teaching starfish to walk back to the ocean after the storm. Human beings are more than animals with opposable thumbs. They are thinking, caring and capable creations that occasionally need to get a boost from other people. It is only right that we share our talents, influence, resources and encouragement to those in need.
This analogy should stop here, but since I have already moved past the starfish as weak and helpless creatures and have begun to talk about real people, one fact is clear: People that are saved from disaster and those that are led into brighter paths have the potential to become saviors themselves. That is the definition of compassion. Planting the seeds of compassion grows into a caring society and we are all better for the effort.
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