Just One Starfish©

For some reason, we call Thanksgiving through the end of December the season of giving. Frankly, I don’t understand it and I don’t like it. Don’t get me wrong, I love giving and I’m a big believer in the power of giving to create magic and to change things for the good. My issue is with limiting the “giving season” to Thanksgiving and Christmas. What about the rest of the year? Why do we have to wait until the end of the year to think about giving? Obviously, we don’t have to wait, but I wonder – do we mentally or unconsciously start to think that giving is only for the end of the year? And I’m not talking about traditional giving: helping others in need, donating time, food, clothing or dollars to worthy causes. This is absolutely a great way to give and we should be giving all year round. However, there are so many different ways to give – every day and in every way – that we are missing.

I love the starfish story. If you don’t already know it, here it is:

A young man was walking along the ocean and saw a beach on which thousands and thousands of starfish had washed ashore. Further along he saw an old man, walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean.

“Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” he asked.

“Because the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them further in they will die.”

“But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it! You can’t possibly save them all; you can’t even save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you work all day, your efforts won’t make any difference at all.”

The old man listened calmly and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea. It made a difference to that one.

This is the kind of giving that I’m talking about – the little things that we can do every day to make a difference in someone’s life. It may not be a big thing, but every small act of kindness and trust to touch a life, a heart or a spirit is bigger than we think, and it matters both at work and at home.

Here’s a brief list of little things that make a difference, one person at a time!

  • Make eye contact with people as you pass them, including those that are hurting. How often do we walk about the homeless and avoid eye contact because we feel bad or want to avoid “the ask”? Look someone in the eye – it is the highest form of respect, and it tells them that they matter.
  • Give a co-worker or friend a genuine and heartfelt word of appreciation.  Two of the most powerful words in any language are a genuine “thank you,” and we could all use some more thanks.
  • Put your phone down and engage with someone in a conversation without checking it. The gift of your full presence with someone else speaks volumes to them and lets them know that you really care and that they matter.
  • Smile – they call it a day-maker for a reason. Do you notice how many people walk and drive around without smiling (often even scowling)? Share a smile – you never know who needs just that in that moment.
  • Pay it forward – Buy someone behind you a cup of coffee, pay someone else’s parking or toll, or leave a few dollars for the person behind you in line at the store. Maybe that one little act of generosity will give someone hope for the future and let them know that the world is a much better place than they think.
  • Give someone a card with a heartfelt note. I recently received a handwritten card from someone that I had breakfast with, and it touched my heart. I’ve had that card framed and keep it on my desk to inspire me when I feel challenged.
  • Remember something about someone and ask them about it. Everyone wants to feel special, and a great way to help someone feel that way is to remember something about them (perhaps a date or something going on in their life) and ask them about it with a genuine interest in them.
  • Listen – Just plain listen. We live in a distracting world full of noise in many forms. We are failing at listening, but when we are intentional with our listening it shows, and people notice. My friend Jack Ricchiuto wrote that “we listen each other into existence.” Wow … listen and someone comes into existence. And you thought these were little things?

The point of all this is that one small act of kindness matters, and it always has. Giving is about not expecting anything in return and about not knowing what (if anything) will come of it.

When it comes to giving, the old adage of “go big or go home” doesn’t apply. Certainly, the big things matter, but they may not matter more than the little things. And everyone can do the little things – the little things are not limited to people with lots of time or lots of money. This kind of giving is the ultimate form of democracy – anyone can do it. All you have to have is a heart, and all you have to do is care!

That is the spirit of giving to me, and it’s not seasonal. The giving store is open all year round, 24 hours a day. I hope you’ll be a part of a new group of givers, big in heart and big in action. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

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