The Starfish Parable and Mother Theresa

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“We cannot always do great things.
But we can always do small things with great love.”

- Saint Mother Theresa

I love the parable of the Starfish. My friend Ann, chair of the Mental Wellness Center Education Committee, gave me a starfish pin for my badge when I joined the committee. Along with my new pin was a card with a story credited to the late philosopher Loren Eisley (September 3, 1907 – July 9, 1977).

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a little boy gently picking things up and throwing them into the ocean. He approached the boy and asked “ What are youdoing?” The boy replied “I’m throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out soon, If I don’t throw them back they’ll die.”  “Son” the man said, “ Don’t you know there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds and hundreds of starfish?” “You can’t make a difference!” After listening politely the little boy gently picked up another starfish and tossed into the water. He looked up at the man smiling and said… “ I made a difference for that one”.


Simple things do make a positive difference in families, communities and beyond. Make eye contact with your child and give a wink of approval, share your smarts with your colleagues, volunteer to edit resumes for the unemployed, mentor a teenager, volunteer at the animal shelter, take your kids to visit an assisted living community. In recovery? Sponsor someone trying to get there. 

No matter what you do, I think you’ll find you cannot help someone else without helping yourself. Being generous may even lengthen your life, there is science behind altruism. Sigmund Freud taught us about our capacity to be selfish and destructive, we see that everywhere. To develop the side of our nature that is constructive, generous, kind and good is a worthy purpose indeed. One person cannot boil the ocean, as it were, or rescue everyone in the whole world, we can’t all be Mother Theresa. But we can save one.

At the time of Mother Teresa's death, The Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity numbered 3,914 members, and were established in 594 communities in 123 countries of the world. Her work continues with the Missionaries of Charity Sisters. The order has grown over 4,000 members in 697 foundations in 131 countries of the world. On September 4, 2016 she was canonized by Pope Francis at Saint Peters’ Square in Rome, and is now known as Saint Mother Theresa. Small things with great love… Share a story of a life you’ve touched. How have you made a difference for someone? Or how has someone made a difference for you?


Share your story here.

My Best,