A few days ago, I was in conversation with a few like-minded friends about each person’s desire to make a difference in the societal challenges that matter to each of us.

One of our members asked, “what do you find is the common theme amongst people in leadership roles in the not-for-profit world?” My observation is these leaders are willing to accept that their impact may be small.

Another member expressed frustration, saying this is a defeatist attitude, “can’t we strive to do more?”

And another said, “for me, it’s most important not to be a bystander.”

This conversation reminded me of the following classic story.

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?” The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up, and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.” “Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, “I made a difference for that one.”

Who is right?

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