My blog friend Amuirin wrote a very poignant and beautiful post about how she feels (and I suspect many of us feel as we get pounded with stories of ills of the world) that she cannot take another heartbreak on humanity. I really encourage you to read her short post on this. It’s quite wonderful.
I was going to leave a comment there but I knew it would go long so I decided to post here. About seven years ago I worked for a small non-profit group whose mission was (well, still is) to help people.
As the public relations guy, part of my job was to get info out to the media about our programs. At the time, the Enron debacle was in full swing and we saw a spike in the number of people who were needing financial help.
I was writing a news release and for part of it I interviewed our director of the family assistance program to get her perspective. She said that people who had lost all their life savings and were on the verge of losing everything else due to the demise of Enron were coming in seeking help. She had seen a significant rise in the number of families seeking financial assistance with utility bills, mortgage notes or groceries from our small food bank. This was on top of the normal flow of desperate, low-income families we tried to help every month.
Working in the department that wrote the grant requests, sent out letters to donors asking for more contributions and whose job it was to get more money for the non-profit group, I knew how rationed our finances were. I knew we didn’t have enough to help everyone who was in such dire circumstances.
And so I asked this person, “how do you… well, you know… how do you reconcile the idea that we have so many families coming in asking for help but knowing only a few will get it?”
She said when she first started with the non-profit about 20 years earlier she would literally cry herself to sleep as she thought of the families that were being turned away. But she came to grip with fact that she or the non-profit couldn’t help everyone… but she could help some and to those families she had made a difference.
It reminds me of this wonderful story that speaks to that idea as well.
The Boy and the Starfish
A man was walking along a deserted beach at sunset. As he walked he could see a young boy in the distance, as he drew nearer he noticed that the boy kept bending down, picking something up and throwing it into the water. Time and again he kept hurling things into the ocean.
As the man approached even closer, he was able to see that the boy was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time he was throwing them back into the water.
The man asked the boy what he was doing, the boy replied,”I am throwing these washed up starfish back into the ocean, or else they will die through lack of oxygen. “But”, the man said, “You can’t possibly save them all, there are thousands on this beach, and this must be happening on hundreds of beaches along the coast. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The boy smiled, bent down and picked up another starfish, and as he threw it back into the sea, he replied.
“I made a huge difference to that one!”