Print   |   Back
August 21, 2012
Goodness Matters
The Starfish Principle and Me
by Vickey Pahnke Taylor

What I call the “Starfish Principle” comes from a short, oft-told story illustrating that nothing is so small that it isn’t noticed by the Lord.

Remember the story of a young man taking his morning walk at the beach? He saw that along with the morning tide came hundreds of starfish. They were left behind when the water rolled back again, leaving them in the morning sun. They would die lying there on the beach.

The tide was fresh, so the starfish were alive.  The young man took a few steps, picked up one and tossed it into the water. He repeated this maneuver over and over.

Behind a ways, another man watched, curious as to what the younger one was up to.

Finally, he caught up to him, having seen the young fellow happily tossing starfish along the way.  “What are you doing”, he asked.

The youth replied, “I’m tossing starfish back into the water.”

“But, there are hundreds and hundreds of them. How much can you help? What difference does it really make?”

As the young man picked up the next starfish and threw it into the water, he grinned at the older gentleman and said, “It makes a difference to this one.”

I first read that story many years ago. I’ve seen it done several ways on YouTube. I even have it on my goodnessmatters website.  I dubbed it the “Starfish Principle,” because I grew to understand that Mother Teresa’s words are true: “I cannot do great things. But I can do small things with great love.”

When I started applying the Starfish Principle, it became simpler to find some way to make a difference for good. Even to one person. In some small way.

Too often, we might feel like our little effort doesn’t matter — that we don’t make a difference.

I need to tell you, you do make a difference. It does matter! 

Every little good thing we attempt is noticed and, I believe, appreciated by the Lord.  “As I have loved you, love one another,” admonished the Savior. We cannot, here and now, understand His perfect love. But we can learn it (Starfish Principle-like!) as we do a little bit of good here, and add a dash of kindness there.

This principle has changed my life. I let go of the silly notion (at least, it was for me) that I could find grandiose ways of adding to life’s goodness. I just needed to pay attention, and do my little part as well as I could. It released me from too much self-expectation, from a burden of feeling like I could never quite do enough to satisfy what was required of me — whatever “what was required of me” meant! 

Oh, the joys of going with the flow, and finding some way to bring a smile or offer a cheerful word. That alone, I’ve learned, is often plenty enough to make a difference.

With a smile in our willing heart, we can grow a whole lot of goodness in life as we throw a lifeline to someone, in some simple but loving way, every day of our lives.  Because, like Mother Teresa, we can do small things with great love!

Copyright © 2024 by Vickey Pahnke Taylor Printed from