You may have heard the story of a man walking along the beach before he began his work one day. As he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a young boy reaching down in the sand, picking up starfish and throwing them into the ocean.
“Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" the man inquired of the young boy.
To this, the boy replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die."
After hearing this, the man commented, "Do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!"
At this, the young boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it hit the water, he said, "I made a difference to that one!"
This story illustrates one of my new favorite quotes. Andy Stanley was the keynote speaker at the 2011 Catalyst Leadership Conference. During his message, he challenged us, “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone else.” This thought has stuck with me ever since I heard it last fall.
So often, we feel the pressure to change the world and solve universal problems, such as creating sustainable jobs for an entire African village or launching the next multi-million dollar corporation. But in all reality, we know these aspirations are often unlikely and probably unattainable.
But when you think about what Stanley said, it makes those goals more realistic.
This concept became vividly clear to me in 2009, when I traveled to downtown Chicago with a group of students. One afternoon, we each packed two sack lunches and hit the streets near Millennium Park, looking for homeless people with whom we could share our lunches. These people were scattered all over the city, specifically in the area near the park. My friend Corbin and I found one woman begging for money on the street and we asked if we could share a meal together. There, on the steps of a Quiznos, as we ate our sandwiches, we began to hear her story. But what struck me most of all is when she said, "I'd rather have someone smile at me and acknowledge my existence than throw some coins at me."
There are nearly 6,000 people living on the streets in Chicago. There is no way I would be able to talk to or help each of them, but I was able to bring a smile to one woman's face. And sometimes, that's all that we can do.
Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone else. You may not be able to change the entire world, but you can change one person's world.
Post by Karis Butler, First-Year Soderquist Fellow
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