Think the little things you do don't make a difference? This article will help change your mind.
Two men were walking toward each other on an otherwise deserted beach. One man was in his early 20s, the other obviously much older. The smooth damp sand was littered with starfish, washed onto the land during high tide. They were stranded there when the tide ebbed. Thousands of starfish were doomed to die in the warm morning sun.
The younger man watched the older man pick up starfish one at a time and toss them back into the ocean, giving them a chance to survive. The young man thought, “Why is he doing that? How foolish. He can’t save them all.”
As they came near one another, the younger one felt compelled to point out to the older man the futility in his action. “You know,” he said, “you can’t save them all. Most of them will die here on the sand. What you are doing really won’t make any difference.” The older man studied the young man for a moment. Then he bent down, picked up a starfish and tossed it into the water. He smiled at the young man and said, “It made a difference to that one.” Then he walked on, picking up starfish and tossing them back into the sea.
What we do for others who are less fortunate: the ill, the infirmed, the grieving, the poor probably won’t wipe out poverty, illness, pain or disabilities. Nonetheless it is a mistake not to act because we think that what we can do is insignificant and won’t make a difference. Because it does make a difference—it makes a difference to that person.
A friend, Jerry, is often called by the local blood bank to donate blood. He has a common blood type and there is a consistent need for it. He always says yes to the request. He says it isn’t a big deal to take an hour from his schedule every couple of months to donate a pint of blood. “What difference does it make,” he says. The last time he donated he got an idea of the difference it makes. A nurse looked at his record and commented that he’d donated thirty-four pints of blood—more that four gallons—since he started donating some years ago.
His blood donations have made a difference to more than one hundred people, since each pint of blood is divided into three or four units, and a recipient typically gets one unit at a time. Without question his “no big deal” blood donations have saved accident victims from death, and helped other recover from surgery and even life-threatening illnesses. And that’s a mighty difference.
Wealthy people who donate large sums of money to worthy causes often impress us. And in comparison we see our contributions as minuscule. Our donations are smaller, but they are still important. Small amounts given consistently and combined with hundreds or thousands of other small but regular contributions make a big difference to those in need.
We recently attended the dedication of two Habitat for Humanity homes. Those homes were built through many small donations of money and labor. Any of those donations singularly probably wasn’t especially impressive, but when focused on the goal of building the houses they made a difference.
It’s possible to make a mighty difference in someone’s life and not know it until many years later. A teacher (in a Caribbean country) once had a little girl in her class who had no shoes. One weekend the teacher bought the child a pair of shoes. The next year the teacher moved to a different school and taught there for over 30 years. Shortly after retiring she became ill and was hospitalized. In the hospital she was treated like royalty, and when she recovered she wanted to thank the person responsible for the special care. She was told it was the hospital director who ordered the VIP treatment.
When she went to the director’s office, she was surprised that the director was a young woman in her early forties. When she thanked the doctor, the doctor interrupted her. “I wanted to thank you,” she said. Her words bewildered the teacher. “You don’t remember me, do you?” said the director. “You bought me a pair of shoes many years ago. You cared for me, and you inspired me to want to care for others, so I became a doctor. And finally, I was able to thank you for the shoes.”
The young man was right, of course. We can’t save all the starfish that wash up on the shore, but he was wrong to say that the old man’s efforts made no difference. When there is an obvious need, then doing something is better than doing nothing—and doing something makes a difference.