I was reminded of the Starfish Story by a recent post by Sarah Habsburg recounting a lesson from a seven year old. Times are tough, there is a war in Ukraine of which we are daily reminded, the energy crisis is causing a serious cost of living crisis for households and businesses are struggling to survive with falling demand and rising costs, and then there are the increasingly urgent climate and biodiversity crises.
It is all too easy to be overwhelmed, but sometimes “out of the mouth of babes and sucklings… “
“One day over breakfast this week, my 5-year-old daughter was really sad that she is not a school year older because she would love to already be in primary school with some friends who already started. (Here in Austria, school starts in September after the child turns 6).
My 7-year-old son – whom I actually thought was not even listening – suddenly turned to her and said:
“I know it’s hard when you can’t change something Amelie, but your age is something you definitely can’t. Do you think you can find peace with it?”
Just “WOW!”, right?
Wise words from a seven year old, that reminded Sarah, and me, of those of the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, “give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.”
At the heart of Responsible Tourism is an understanding that we should make tourism better, as best we can to benefit our neighbours and their natural and cultural heritage and the benefit of our businesses. Unless the business is doing real damage to our climate there is nothing to be gained by it closing with lost jobs. There are many business advantages explained in a recent presentation in Mumbai at the OTM trade show.
Every year in the Responsible Tourism Awards we hear from businesses which are making a difference, demonstrating what can be achieved, we select as winners those which are tried and tested and, in the view of the judges, replicable. The Rest of the World and Global Awards will be presented at WTM, London on November 7th.
Sarah reminds us that every modest action can make a difference, and she quotes the Dalai Lama “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”. The anthropologist Margaret Mead asserted “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
So back to throwing Star Fish, a story that has been retold many times. The story originated in a 1969 essay, The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley, also known as the Starfish Story it has become something of a meme. The story has been adapted and retold by motivational speakers and on internet sites, often without attribution, since at least the mid-1980s. The conversation is related between different characters, an older man and a younger one, a wise man and a little girl, or Jesus and a man.
Joel Barker’s version is powerful
“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 embarrased.
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.
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.”
There is much to do but every little thing contributes to making the world a better place. There is no time for delay. The Responsible Tourism Movement is a broad church and it is growing but there is much more to do. We need a paradigm shift if we are to prosper in a finite world.