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Sea Stars & Fireworks

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So what do a five-armed sea critter and    Katy Perry have in common – much less to do with garbage?

Now that it’s the New Year and resolutions are fresh, school is back in session, it’s important to think about what inspires you – or rather, what really helps mobilize you to continue doing the environmental work you’re doing. Every environmentalist/activist/change-maker should have a toolbox of favorite catch phrases, songs, and stories they keep in reserve and can pull out every time they feel disheartened or discouraged about their efforts.

For me, there’s the parable of the sea star, an oldie but goodie: the story of a boy who takes a walk on the beach one morning, and finds the sand littered with thousands of sea stars. A big storm from the night before had washed them up on shore, and now they were stranded far above the tide line. The only other soul in sight was an old man who was making slow progress across the sand, stopping to delicately pick up each blue or violet sea star in his path, and toss it back into the ocean. The boy watched the old man repeat this act for several minutes before approaching him.

“It’s really great you’re doing that,” the boy said, “but there are thousands of sea stars out here. What difference can you possibly make?”

The old man considered his answer for a long moment, gazing out across the beach in the morning light and then down to the sea star at his feet. He then stooped, gently picked up the small echinoderm, and tossed it safely into the water. “Well,” he finally replied, “I made a difference for that one.”

The story continues, with the boy wordlessly joining the old man, and the two of them inspiring the other morning walkers, joggers, and sunbathers to help until the beach was at last free of sea stars. It’s a parable I love because its core is so simple: we can never predict how far our influence may go, what change our actions might engender, and that’s a profoundly healing concept. Every accomplishment is something to celebrate because of its potential to spread: whether it’s inspiring one student/friend/co-worker to change his/her behavior, or converting your family to the 4R’s, or simply being a positive role model of sustainable behavior to those around you.

But that’s just in my toolbox – and I recall that story every time I begin to feel discouraged about the kind of difference I’m making, trying to re-teach the concept “garbage” and help schools reduce waste. For another student, she admitted she loves Katy Perry’s song “Firework,” which helps her remember what strength she has as an LGBTQ student and to keep doing her best to help others.

So whether you love or hate pop music, or whether or not the parable of the sea star does anything for you – it’s vital that you discover what inspires you, and that you keep adding to that toolbox each year.

What stories, songs, or quotes keep pushing you forward for your change-work?