An old man had a habit of early morning walks on the beach. One day, after a storm, he saw a human figure in the distance moving like a dancer. As he came closer he saw that it was a young woman and she was not dancing but was reaching down to the sand, picking up a starfish and very gently throwing them into the ocean.
“Young lady,” he asked, “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”
“The sun is up, and the tide is going out, and if I do not throw them in they will die.”
“But young lady, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it? You cannot possibly make a difference.”
The young woman listened politely, paused and then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves. “It made a difference to that one.”
We have traded our intimacy for social media, our romantic bonds for dating matches on apps, our societal truth for the propaganda of corporate interests, our spiritual questioning for dogmatism, our intellectual curiosity for standardized tests and grading, our inner voices for the opinions of celebrities and hustler gurus and politicians, our mindfulness for algorithmic distractions and outrage, our inborn need to belong to communities for ideological bubbles, our trust in scientific evidence for the attractive lies of false leaders, our solitude for public exhibitionism.
We have ignored the hunter-gatherer wisdom of our past, obedient now to the myth of progress.
But we must remember who we are and where we came from.
We are animals born into mystery, looking up at the stars. Uncertain in ourselves, not knowing where we are heading. We exist with the same bodies, the same brains, as Homo sapiens from thousands of years past, roaming on the plains, hunting in forests and by the sea, foraging together in small bands.
Except now, our technology is exponentially increasing at a scale that we cannot predict.
We are overwhelmed with information; lost in a matrix that we do not understand.
Our civilizational “progress” is built on the bones of the indigenous and the poor and the powerless.
Our “progress” comes at the expense of our land, and oceans, and air.
We are reaching beyond what we can globally sustain. Former empires have perished from their unrestrained greed for more resources. They were limited in past ages by geography and capacity, collapsing in regions, and not over the entire planet.
What will be the cost of our progress?
We have grown arrogant in our comfort, hardened away from our compassion, believing that our reality is the only reality.
Yet even at our most uncertain, there are still those saints who are unknown and nameless, who help even when they do not need to help.
They often are not rich, don’t have their profiles written up in magazines, and will never win any prestigious awards.
They may have shared their last bit of food while already surviving on so little. They may have cherished the disheartened, shown warmth to the neglected, tended to the diseased and dying, spoken kindly to the hopeless.
They do not tremble in silence while the wheels of prejudice crush over their land.
Withering what was once fertile into pale death and smoke.
They tend to what they love, to what they serve.
They help, even when they could fall back into ignorance, even when they could prosper through easy greed, even when they could compromise their values, conforming into groupthink for the illusion of security.