Car Crashes & Starfish (Acceptance or Action)
I watched a video today that included a compilation of car crashes and road rage incidents. It was startling and also interesting. I wouldn’t recommend viewing if you’re planning on taking a road trip soon but if you’re fascinated by human behavior you can find scores of them on YouTube.
One of the biggest surprises in these accidents is how quickly a person can go from having a normal day to being in a life changing, threatening event in the blink of an eye. It’s a harsh reminder that no one is guaranteed to be alive past the present moment and there is so little control we have over even the most mundane aspects of our lives.
A fundamental truth of wisdom is knowing the difference between what we must accept and what we can take action upon. To spend energy on that which we cannot change is wasteful, saps our strength and resolve from doing, acting upon what we can.
A Zen proverb tells the story of an old man walking along the beach. It was low tide, and the sand was littered with thousands of stranded starfish that the water had carried in and then left behind.
The man began walking very carefully so as not to step on any of the beautiful creatures. Since the animals still seemed to be alive, he considered picking some of them up and putting them back in the water, where they could resume their lives.
The man knew the starfish would die if left on the beach’s dry sand but he reasoned that he could not possibly help them all, so he chose to do nothing and continued walking.
Soon afterward, the man came upon a small child on the beach who was frantically throwing one starfish after another back into the sea. The old man stopped and asked the child, “What are you doing?”
“I’m saving the starfish,” the child replied.
“Why waste your time? There are so many you can’t save them all so what does is matter?” argued the man.
Without hesitation, the child picked up another starfish and tossed it back into the water. “It matters to this one.”
Knowing the difference between when to practice acceptance and when to take action can make all the difference.