Starfish and Small Spheres of Influence

You've probably already heard this story but it's good to hear it again now and then. 

Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer still and the man called out, "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied, "Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can't return to the sea themselves," the youth replied. "When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back in the water."

The old man replied, "But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I'm afraid you won't really be able to make much of a difference."

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled, and said, "It made a difference to that one!"


As we wrapped up things at the FOB (Forward Operating Base for those of you joining us late) at the conclusion of MOBEX Trigger, I was chatting with V, the Operations Director and she was telling us how that story was told at the Team Rubicon National Leadership Conference. I'm not sure who did the telling or under what context but I suspect it had a lot to do with the overwhelming nature of responding to a natural disaster.

I've been involved in my fair share of natural disasters, having grown up in SoCal where the four seasons are: fires, floods, earthquakes, and riots, but I've never been a part of a response TO a natural disaster. I cannot truly imagine how overwhelming it must be to show up on scene after a tornado has devastated a community or a flood has ripped through a town. Just watching the images on television is overwhelming. To see it in person must be utterly indescribable. Where do you start? What do you do? How do you know who and how to help? How do you see through the chaos and figure out where to begin? And, in the face of that level of destruction, the inability to help EVERYONE is paralyzing to the point that, often, you don't even know how to help ONE person.

I think it's that paralyzation that prevents many people from stepping forward to help at all. I know it has me. 

When the earthquake happened in Haiti, a good friend of mine when down with the Coast Guard right about the time that Team Rubicon hit the ground there. Between my friend's reports and TR's reports, just following those was overwhelming. And yet, they were there. Helping one person at a time. And, while neither of them could make a difference to everyone, they made a difference to so many.

V gave several of us this little rubber starfish at the end of the MOBEX training and, while it's just a cute little trinket, the message behind it is enormous. You can't help everyone. But getting up off my ass and doing *something* and affecting my small sphere of influence is something I can do (Blackfive, that story and that lesson have never left me. Thanks for that.). That starfish carries some pretty deep meaning for a little rubber trinket.

Thanks, V. 

- hfs

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