Why the “Starfish Story” Needs an Update

Zoe Weil is a blogger for Psychology Today (PT), and twice a month we share her blog posts here. Enjoy!

There’s an oft-told parable about a child rescuing beached starfish by throwing them back into the sea. A pragmatic adult walks by and tells the child that given the hundreds of starfish on the shore, throwing them one by one into the ocean can’t possibly make a difference.

Tossing a starfish back into the water, the child responds, “I made a difference for that one.”

This story is meant to serve as a reminder that in the face of large-scale suffering and destruction, doing something—anything—to help individuals does indeed make a difference.

And yet, given such daunting and pervasive problems as escalating rates of extinction, the climate crisis, human population growth, racism, war, and the cruel treatment and slaughter of one trillion animals every year for food, we need a different parable than the starfish story for today’s world. And we need to do more than be humanitarians. We must also become solutionaries…

psychology today