Do you remember the story about the little boy picking up starfish on the beach? He had wandered upon hundreds of the—victims of a rough sea and extremely high tide. The precious marine animals were landlocked, way up on the shore, where the quickly receding tide had stranded them. With the storm passed, they were doomed to dry and die there. The chances of another tide reaching that far onshore in time to save them was a minuscule probability at best.
So the boy was carefully picking them up, one by one, and walking them all the way back to the water, comforting them with a song as he worked.
A beachcomber watched the boy with amusement for a while, then caught up to him and said, “Son, don’t you know there are so many starfish here that your efforts won’t make a dent in the damage? You are wasting your time, son. What you are doing doesn’t don’t even matter.”
The little boy looked up at the stranger, not missing a step on his way to rescue another stranded creature. Then he paused a moment, picked up another starfish, and held it up to the man, “Well, it matters to this one.”
What if the problem is just too big?
I am often reminded of that story when I look at 21st century “modern” culture—especially our agricultural and food supply practices. We have witnessed a serious decline in the nutritional value of foods; we have watched helplessly while corporate giants drive family farms out of business, and we have purchased the products created by rendering untold acres of topsoil infertile by mega-farming practices. We have either seen or suspected the harmful effects pesticides and herbicides have on animals, land, and people—all of this and more—yet we blithely accept whatever is pushed our way, without stopping to think it may be possible to stand up and make a difference.
Little things do matter
Take bottled water, for instance. Containers of water deemed to possess special curative properties have been distributed since ancient times. Somewhere in the 1970s, though, bottled water was pointedly introduced as an alternative to tap water. Many shoppers shook their heads and said, “I’ll never spend my dollars on a bottle of water from the store when I have a faucet at home that gives me all I want for pennies.” Bombarded with marketing that played on reports of health risks from public drinking supplies and the general decline of our aquifers, however, bottled water soon became fashionable. Now, it is seen as an almost indispensable commodity.
To add physical injury to financial insult, bottled water is normally sold in plastic bottles—and the health risks associated with plastics may be much larger than most of us currently suspect. While Americans continue to chug down more bottled water than any other nation on earth (somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 BILLION empty water bottles are thrown out as garbage each year), medical researchers have yet to determine how safe it is to drink from plastic bottles.
It doesn’t stop there, though: not only is bottled water hundreds of times more expensive than tap water (and much of it is tap water), and not only are there potentially serious health risks associated with drinking water that has been stored in soft plastic bottles—those 50 BILLION empties end up somewhere in the environment. Many empty bottles make it to a landfill and many end up buried in the mud in a ditch alongside a highway. Either way, they then begin leaching back into the aquifer—meaning we will eventually drink not only the water but the bottle it came in.
So, what’s the point?
The flagrant misuse of technology and manipulative marketing has us running downhill fast in so many ways that a rude awakening—financially, physically, and environmentally—is seemingly inevitable. Like drunken sailors on liberty, we have taken advantage of the time as if what we do now will no longer matter.
It sometimes seems the best we can do is hold on tight and scream, like those who purchased tickets on the world’s fastest roller coaster, but now wish they would never have boarded it in the first place.
What can we do?
Maybe we should take a lesson from the boy with the starfish. There are simple actions available to us that will make a difference … at least to “this one.”
For instance, here are just a few suggestions—ideas my own family has implemented:
- Avoid buying beverages packaged in plastic bottles. Some items, like laundry detergent, are reasonable to buy in plastic jugs—but they are much larger and the contents last longer (especially if the product is concentrated instead of watered down).
- Shun factory farm produce and products. Buy local and buy organic when you can. What good is it to save a few dollars on products so contaminated with pesticides and devoid of nutrients that the value they offer is likely outweighed by the potential harm?
- Purchase concentrated products that offer maximum uses per container. Many items on the store shelf are mostly water. You can add the water on your own. We use a 6x concentrated laundry detergent—and one 48-ounce bottle lasts our family of five for three months or more. Moreover, the bottle is recyclable.
But wait, there’s more
When you think about it, there are more ways to vote than at the ballot box. No doubt, it is important to call for change in legislative policies that govern food, product, and environmental safety—but we can also use our “dollar votes” at the supermarket every time we make a purchase. It may not seem like your individual actions matter much, but they do. Especially when we stand up, as a body of concerned individuals and add action to our concerns.
You don’t think the politicians and big retailers care about what you think? Listen, that is the main thing they care about. They know something you have forgotten: without your support and acquiescence—they wouldn’t be able to do what they do.
Believe it or not, the most important person in the world of marketing is sitting in your chair! Be the change you want to see, and you will soon see the change you have envisioned.