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
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
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.
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
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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