The Power of One

Posted February 26, 2013

 By Barbara Van Dahlen, Founder of Give An Hour

Celebrities in our society have special status—and stature. As a result, they have an opportunity to engage, educate, and inspire if they so choose. Some actors, performers, and athletes are not interested in using their fame to express their opinions about or address social issues, while others embrace the public platform they have been given to speak up for groups or causes that touch their hearts. Still others quietly support initiatives, or visit hospitals, or travel to distant countries—with little or no media attention. They lend a hand to those in need just as anyone else might do, without photographers or tweets.

Regardless of whether we believe that a celebrity’s opinion should carry more weight than yours or mine, we know that it does. So when a celebrity decides to take on a challenge, support a group, or champion a cause, he or she can have a significant impact on our nation’s interest in and support for that issue. Is it any wonder that celebrities and those who manage them sometimes appear callous to the many individuals and groups who seek their endorsement or assistance? They can’t possibly say “yes” to all of the worthy causes that come calling. But thankfully, there are many celebrities who do say “yes” as often as possible, and the consequences can be profound.

In late January I had the privilege of participating in a very powerful event at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center associated with the Academy Award–nominated film Silver Linings Playbook. The star of the film, Bradley Cooper, joined former Congressman Patrick Kennedy and me for a panel discussion that followed the screening of his movie. The film is an honest, poignant and, at times, funny portrayal of the challenges many Americans face as they struggle daily to function in a world that is often unsupportive and uninterested.

The Warrior Café at Walter Reed was filled for the screening with wounded and recovering service members and their families. Many of the wounded were in wheelchairs, many of the families had very young children in tow. And many were eager to share their stories—of challenge and frustration and of hope for the future. They spoke about coping with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress and about navigating life with missing limbs and traumatic brain injuries.

Mr. Cooper was clearly moved by those who spoke—those who had sacrificed so much in service to our country. At the close of the panel discussion, he announced that he would stay as long as needed that night, which he did. He stayed until every service member or family member had a photo, an autograph, or the opportunity to speak with him. As we were packing up at the end of the long evening, I told Mr. Cooper that his interest and compassion meant so much to those who attended. He looked at me with genuine surprise and said that he was the lucky one.

Bradley Cooper’s actions can be an example for us all. While his celebrity may give him access and opportunity, he still has to put in the time and the effort to have an impact. And his actions should be a reminder to us all of the positive impact that service can have—not only for those who receive, but for those who step up to serve.