Monday, November 12, 2007

A Story of Cynical Inspiration


I hate inspirational stories.

In an old non-profit I worked for that did foster care, the executive director would step up at almost every staff meeting and public event and deliver the "Starfish Story". If you don't know it, here is a thumbnail of it:

"A guy walking along the beach after a storm spotted an area where thousands of starfish had washed up on the sand and were drying out and dying in the sun. He came upon another man who was carrying each starfish gingerly back to the ocean. The first man said: 'why do you do this? You can't possibly save the starfish? What does it matter?' The second man held up the starfish and said: 'It matters to this one.'"

Retch.

After listening to this story forever, I wrote a response and mailed it to the executive director of this non-profit agency.

"A man from a nearby fishing villiage was walking along the beach after a storm and spotted an area where thousands of starfish had washed up on the sand and were drying out and dying. He came upon another man carrying each starfish gingerly back to the ocean. The first man said: 'What are you doing? The starfish raid our fishing area. They ruin everything. Starfish are pariahs to us.' The second man shrugged and continued to the ocean. 'Sorry,' he responded. 'I'm only licensed for starfish'."

20 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm not much for the standard inspirational stories either. I much prefer the anti-inspirational stuff, such as, "remember, the tallest blade of grass is first to feel the lawn mower."

Vwriter said...

Stewart, please don't share with the others that story you tell at parties about Mr. Rogers being a sniper while in the army.

Christina said...

If you get a comment back on that, you'll have to post it. I wonder what the person would say after reading that. Pretty funny!

P.S. Thanks for reading and giving me feed back on my story. It's going to need a lot of revision.

Fab said...

Ha still smiling cause of the tall grass sentence there...
I had never heard the starfish story - a bit cheezy. The thing you came up with I liked, Stewart!
P.S.: you were a movie critic??

Kate S said...

Ooh, somebody's a little Mr. Cranky Pants today. Just begging for a good inspirational story to pull him right out of his mood. :)

Travis said...

I like the occasional inspirational story. They aren't all cheesy.

OK, they are all cheesy.

I guess I prefer real stories of people overcoming adversity, not the allegorical ones.

SQT said...

I like success stories, I find those inspirational. But like Travis said, the real stuff, not the fairy tales.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

the light at the end of the tunnel is the washington street subway train, and all that...

Stewart Sternberg said...

YES, Charles. You've got it.

Rick, you have it wrong. Rogers was a Navy SEAL.

No problem Christina..any time I can be of assistance. My critiques have earned me the hatred of people from across the United States.

Fab...yep. Movie critic.

Mr.Cranky Pants? Makes me want to suck gasoline from my car.

Trav and SQT, it's not about inspiration, it's about...nah, never mind. And yeah Wayne...that light just keeps getting closer.

Vwriter said...

No, it was John Denver who was a trained Navy SEAL. I know because one of the seals at SeaWorld in Ohio was named John Denver and used to perform to "Thank God I'm a Country Boy."

But I think you had also mentioned in an earlier conversation that Mr. Rogers wore a sweater to cover his military tattoos, is that correct?

spyscribbler said...

You know, Stewart, I once lapsed into ONE inspirational story on my blog. You know, the one with the bridge and the train and the song being killed?

Would you know, goshdarnit, I get hits from google on that every day??? I mean, sheesh.

Hehehe ... just wait until google finds your starfish story. Those who click through to your blog won't know what hit them ... ;-)

spyscribbler said...

Son, not song. For crying out loud.

Sidney said...

Good one, though I do always get a little teary eyed at the starfish story.Christine is much more cynical about "Chicken Soup for the Soul" tales.

Jon said...

Give a man a fish and he'll want fries with it, and cole slaw instead of a salad, and the senior discount and he'll expect you to give him another fish tomorrow, or maybe a meat loaf and maybe a second one to take home to his sick sister.

ShadowFalcon said...

lol I have to agree.

I HATE these type of stories, you can almost see the hallmark channel moment before it comes

Pythia3 said...

Hello Stewart - I am still around and will be at the meeting tomorrow??? Tomorrow, right? I could never leave you and the boys - you need to critique someone at that group and since the three of you are each others biggest fans (and great writers) you need me to be your whipping girl and write...stuff-that, drives u craaaaaazy!!!!!!
Shall I bring the whip with the cookies?
PS I do agree with you about the inspirational stories - enough. Unless they are REAL stories about real people.
I ran the Bible Camp at my church when my kids were young and I volunteered for Hospice for years (and I was an executive with a big company listening to all those management "we can do it" speeches) so needless to say I've heard my share of brave, strong ants and rubber tree plants.
I do like stories that make me think, but I feel most of those inspirational stories keep us lazy.

Pythia3 said...

BTW Stewart, e-mail at:
only1pythia@aol.com
from now on. No more Comcast.
Thanks, Lindy

Franki said...

Have you been to Despair.com? You could write for them.

Michael Fountain: Blood for Ink said...

The original version of the starfish anecdote is, I believe, from the naturalist Loren Eisely's book The Star Thrower. It's a shame that it's been bastardized into inspirational fodder, since the original had something to say about the difference between a species and an individual. Or as Bill Maudlin said in one of his Willie and Joe cartoons, "Th' hell this ain't the most important foxhole in the war-- I'm in it!"
I have the same problem at inspirational staff meetings, cringing when some guy who read a book once cribs something from the Reader's Digest.

Tammie Jean said...

This sounds like one of the email forwards I receive in my inbox on a daily basis. Why do people insist on forwarding stuff like this?