Go to contents

Even for a single starfish

Posted May. 24, 2023 07:55,   

Updated May. 24, 2023 07:55


Tens of thousands of starfish are washed ashore after a terrible storm and are bound to die as they cannot last out of water. A young girl, taking a stroll, picks up a starfish and throws it back into the sea. An old man, witnessing the girl’s action, says: “Darling, there are at least tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, starfish on this seashore. Would there be any difference even if you save a few of them?” The girl replies as she picks up another starfish and tosses it into the water: “It would mean a lot for this one.”

This was a tale told by Bjorn Natthiko Lindebald, a Swedish author who spent 17 years as a Buddhist monk and returned to society to share wisdom. The old man gave a realistic comment. Questioning the meaningfulness of saving just a few out of tens of thousands of starfish, he reminds us of our propensity to easily give up in the face of overwhelming reality. Indeed, in many situations in reality, an individual alone cannot change the tide, and it would be a natural course of action to choose to give up. However, the girl has a point. Looking at the world like the old man, the girl’s action seems insubstantial; however, this was literally life-saving for the starfish. An action, however trivial, can save the whole world if it is amassed. Instead of being pessimistic and cynical, value even a small change; if you pity something, do something instead of weighing and measuring.

Poet Cho Dong-hwa wrote, “Don’t say, ‘Would the grass be greener / simply because I alone blossom?’ / When I bloom and you bloom, / the grass will turn into flower beds.” When many single flowers are grouped, a flower garden will be created. The poet urges everyone to take a step instead of perceiving these small efforts as vain. Lindbald’s story contains a profound wisdom that helps us to fight nihilism which, according to Nietzsche, is an "uncanny guest” and “the uncanniest of monsters.”