Random Acts of Cheer

Join in the holiday spirit, share Acts of Random Cheer

 By Sam Johnson

     “Once upon a time, there was a wise man named Loren who spent summers at the beach working on his writing.
One early morning while walking along the seashore, he noticed the silhouette of a human figure dancing on the beach, the sun rising brilliantly behind him.
As he moved closer he saw that it was a young man, and the young man wasn't dancing, but reaching down on the beach, picking up something, and gently throwing it into the ocean.
As he approached the young man, the writer called out, "Good morning! What are you doing?"
The young man paused, looked up and replied, "Throwing starfish into the ocean."
“Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the writer.
"The sun is coming up and the tide is going out and if I don't throw them back they will die."
"But there are many miles of beach and hundreds of starfish along way. You can’t possibly save them all. What difference will it make to throw a few back?"
     The young man listened politely, then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it out past the breaking waves, back into the ocean,.
"It made a difference to that one," he said.


     I first read “The Star Thrower” in 1971 in a collection of essays by Loren Eiseley titled The Unexpected Universe. Eiseley (1907-1977) was an anthropologist by education, philosopher and teacher by nature, essayist and poet by popular acclaim. He was widely read on campuses and by thoughtful readers everywhere.
While living, Eiseley was considered a modern day Thoreau. Today he holds a place of prominence among the great nature writers of all time.
When I began teaching composition at the University of North Dakota in 1972, I used the essays in his book, The Immense Journey, as models for my students to write by.
In 1980, I brought Eiseley to Devils Lake, ND when I began teaching English and journalism at Central High School. I also used the summary of his personal encounter with “The Star Thrower” in keynote speeches and motivational talks to students at special awards ceremonies and banquets.

Resources and Links

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The message of “The Star Thrower” has always been clearly understood -- “A simple act of kindness can make a huge difference in someone’s life.”
I’ve been thinking about Eiseley’s story of the star thrower and its message of “making a difference,” in connection with several emails I received this week. These emails each contained internet links to some amazing video clips showing simple acts of kindness resulting in powerful expressions of goodwill and holiday cheer.
     One of these short videos has been viewed over 6 million times on YouTube in just the past 6 weeks, and features over 650 people spontaneously singing together the “Hallelujah Chorus” in Macy’s department store in Philadelphia!
Another video titled “Free Hugs” has been viewed over 64 million times on YouTube and features the real life story of Juan Mann, whose sole mission was to reach out and hug a stranger and put a smile on their face. Both are heart-warming video clips!
To fit the holiday season, I’ve been calling demonstrations like these “Acts of Random Cheer” or ARC for short, borrowing from the the more common ARK “Acts of Random Kindness” or RAK “Random Acts of Kindness.”
Where and when the “acts of random kindness” movement began is not clear, though I believe I can make a case that it began with Loren Eiseley’s essay “The Star Thrower” which was reprinted in a collection of Eiseley’s “best” essays and poems aptly titled The Star Thrower and published in 1978, a year after Eiseley’s death.
     The book became a best seller and the story of “The Star Thrower” became well known.
However, those who study social trends point to Anne Herbert, a writer and peace activist, who is credited with encouraging people to “practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty” (a phrase supposedly written on a place mat in a Sausalito restaurant in 1982 or 1983), which became a major influence in the “random acts of kindness” movement.
Whatever the initial impetus, the movement took root and grew throughout the 1980’s, 1990’s and into the new millennium, giving birth to new organizations around the world such as the “World Kindness Movement,” and the “One Million Random Acts of Kindness Campaign,” not to mention related concepts and practices such as “Pay It Forward,” and “Performing Random Acts of Culture,” as well as inspiring many books, recordings, and films.
    No matter the beginnings of the “random acts of kindness” movement, or the variations that have come from it, they all have one thing in common -- they encourage each of us to become a star thrower, to share a simple, selfless act to assist or cheer up another person, with no particular reason other than to make that person smile or be happier.
     What a wonderful world this would be if we each became a frequent star thrower!
     I invite you to join in the holiday spirit this season and share an Act of Random Cheer!
There are many easy ways to take part.
     Even a small act of kindness can make a huge difference.

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