Making a difference-how do you do it?

I was sitting in church yesterday and had this flurry of thoughts cross my mind about how each one of us makes a difference in the lives of others.  I’ll get to that more in a minute, but I have to start this story in the most obvious of places with the Starfish story.  I suspect many of you know this one already, but even if you do, it bears repeating.

A older man was walking down a beach one morning when off in the distance he saw a younger man running along the sand.  Occasionally this young man would bend over and pick up something and throw it back into the waves.

When the older man got closer he could see that the younger man was picking up starfish on the beach who had been marooned there when the tide went out.  He would bend over and pick up the starfish in the sand and throw it back into the waves.  After each one he would run up to the next one and do the same.

The older man, puzzled by this act, came up to the younger man and asked him why he was doing this.  He remarked that the younger man could certainly not save every one of the starfish on the beach.

The younger man stopped for a minute, and then a smile came across his face.  He ran to the next starfish and grabbed it and threw it even farther in to the surf.  He turned to the older man and remarked, “I may not be able to save them all, but I made a difference for that one.”

I am sure you may have heard varying versions of this story, but I still remember the first time I heard it and it never ceases to have an impact on me when I see the work of others and the challenge they seem to be facing.

Each of us has the capacity to make a difference.  The beach/surroundings are different for all of us, but there are opportunities just sitting there waiting for someone to bend over, lend a hand, and make a difference for one or more at a time.  Too often we decide that the  job is too big, we don’t have the time, or the effort is not worth it.  Such minimalist thinking is what wastes or minimizes capacity and ambition.  What we don’t realize when we pass up the chance to help out is that others will be inspired by our actions.  The will see what we are doing and either choose to join in or do something just as a amazing on their own.

I am going to use a mathematical term here to help you understand the value of making a difference.  When I use the term “linear” you will think about something operating in a straight line.  In a linear situation we might add one more unit of item A and get one more unit of item B.

Helping others may first start with linear results, but I am convinced that those who stick with it have Exponential results.  Let me explain:.

Linear would be 2+2=4

Exponential would be 2x2=4

At low levels the results are the same or similar.

Let’s look at a slight increase in effort and participation.

Linear would show that 5+5=10

Exponential would show that 5x5=25

Not that big a difference in effort, but a big difference in results.


Let’s not argue the mathematics of my theory today.  Let’s do agree that effort and perseverance make a difference and the longer we persist, the higher the  odds we will make a difference.

Who have you made a difference for today?