I came across this tale a while ago, and it has stayed with me:
There once was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work. One day he was walking along the shore, as he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day and he began to walk faster to catch up.
As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man, and the young man wasn’t dancing, but instead he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something, and very gently throwing it into the ocean.
He called out, “Good morning, what are you doing?”
The young man paused, looked up and replied, “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
“I guess I should have asked: WHY are you throwing starfish in the ocean?”
“The sun is up and the tide is going out. And if I don’t throw them then they’ll die.”
“But, young man, don’t you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. There must be thousands of them on this beach alone. You can’t possibly hope to make a difference!”
The young man listened politely, then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves and said, “To THAT one, it made a difference.”
The message I got from this is clear: I cannot change the whole world. But I can make a difference. Smile at a stranger. Hug a friend. Say something nice. To THAT person, at THAT time, you’ll have made a difference.