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Commentary

Steve Allen Made Us Better Dreamers

November 02, 2000|JONATHAN DOBRER | Jonathan Dobrer teaches comparative religion at the University of Judaism

While others will celebrate Steve Allen's many talents as an entertainer, I will always remember him as a brave and dedicated activist. His life is a case study of what happens when you follow your dreams and support your ideals. It leads to a life well-lived that replaces despair with hope and brings greater possibilities to the world than the world dared dream.

Here was someone who used his celebrity well. And, I suspect, someone who would have had the same passions as a private citizen.

I first met him in 1960 when he was working and speaking for the United World Federalists. He dreamed of a world that would be like a nation, interdependent and aware of our connectedness. He dreamed of a world at peace. And he worked hard to further his dream.

I next ran into him when he was working, speaking and fund-raising for SANE, which was an organization advocating the safe and peaceful use of nuclear energy while lobbying against the development of weapons of mass destruction.

His efforts took not simply his time and money but involved considerable risk to his work. The smears of Joe McCarthy were not so far in the past, and we were involved in a Cold War with the Soviet Union and the start of a pretty hot war in Southeast Asia. Somehow peace and being anti-nuclear had been besmirched as left-wing causes and their adherents labeled and libeled as communists or fellow travelers.

Still, Allen spoke out with passion, a seriousness of purpose and considerable wit.

Even on the day of his death, his picture appeared in an ad trying to lobby Hollywood and the entertainment industry to stop the pollution of our culture by reducing violence and profanity. Today, he might be accused of being a conservative.

The labels don't make any difference. He acted consistently in alignment with his values and conscience--maybe right or left, maybe right or wrong, but always with gusto and kindness, always with humor and optimism.

No, we do not have one united world. And no, nuclear weapons still threaten us and our children. And finally, no, the entertainment industry still, as so many industries, cares more about profits today than the effects of their pollution on our shared tomorrows. So, since he didn't win any of his big issues, I guess he lived in vain, and his efforts were all for naught. Right? Wrong!

His life and his commitment brought before us great and compelling challenges. Many of us were moved to care, to learn and to act. Believing that his efforts didn't mean anything is like believing that Rosa Parks' act of sitting down in the front of the bus was meaningless because discrimination still exists. Great people, and not all or even most of them famous, make a difference by doing the right thing without regard to the common wisdom or the parimutuel odds. They do it not to win, but to advance. Without them, there are no prophets, no real leaders, and the world remains stuck in all the old patterns, assumptions and dispensations.

People acting in good faith cut through the Gordian knots of common wisdom and, while neither always right nor immediately successful, they give tomorrow a greater chance of being better for more of humanity. "They" could be us--any of us, all of us--if we choose to follow our hearts with our lives.

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