Life Lessons in Star Trek


You can tell a lot about a person by comparing them to Kirk and Spock. Public domain.

Star Trek is one of the most beloved science fiction franchises ever created. Gene Roddenberry crafted the original series as a classic traditional western set in space. He described the show in his original pitch as a “wagon train to the stars.” Along the way he introduced the world to a slate of beloved characters and spawned eleven distinct TV series and thirteen feature films. If you’ve never seen any of those, and both of you know who you are, you might want to just go soak up some YouTube while the old folks talk.

The original series ran for three seasons from 1966 through 1969. I cut my teeth on syndicated reruns in the early 1970’s. I’ve seen every episode.

The effects are crude by modern standards, and some of the writing is admittedly a bit sophomoric. Where Trek really shines, however, is in its character development. Despite being set amidst strange new worlds, these stories are still nonetheless about people. Roddenberry and his writers outdid themselves with their original characters.

Captain Kirk was clearly the alpha male. A hotheaded, passionate leader, Kirk was a leap first, think later-sort of starship captain. By contrast, Mr. Spock was his antithesis.

Per the backstory, Spock was a Vulcan. Gradually over countless generations, the Spock’s people excised emotion from their culture. The Vulcan worldview was based upon dispassionate logic. Spock often served as a foil for Kirk’s emotional humanity.

So, who cares? It’s just a TV show. Get too deep into this stuff and folks will start to think you have no friends and live in your parents’ basement. Ask me how I know this. These characterizations are important, however, because they can reflect on stuff in the real world.

I read someplace years ago what character attributes best predicted professional success. It wasn’t social status, resources, a nurturing homelife or innate intelligence. Those things are important —to be sure — but they were not the primary determinants of an eventual peaceful, productive, successful life. The single most critical factor was one’s capacity to control one’s emotions. This is intuitive if you think about it.

Everybody gets angry sometimes. However, how you manage those impulses can determine your success in life. Yogindra Singh.

Prisons are not filled to bursting with cold-blooded homicidal psychopaths. There are a few of course, but that does not describe your run-of-the-mill lifer. Most of those long-term prisoners simply suffer from poor impulse control.

This was driven home to me starkly when I worked in a big city hospital. Thugs would come in shot-up all the time. If they were fortunate enough to survive the first day or two post-op, then I got to know them fairly well. With few exceptions, once they were out of that sordid environment they were engaging and friendly. Even the proper gladiators and professional gang bangers usually appreciated we were trying to help them. However, to a man they all lived in the moment.

This isn’t surprising. They were products of their ghastly world. However, those kinds of guys don’t typically go to prison because they get up in the morning and coldly scheme out how to snuff folks. They just get mad over perceived offenses or turf incursions and slap leather. In quiet moments, with the benefit of hindsight, most of them regretted their life choices.

It’s obvious really. Folks who struggle with road rage are seldom considered CEO material. If you’re the sort who gets angry at the wait and screams at the innocent underpaid teenager behind the counter, you’re not really setting yourself up on the success vector.

There is little to gain from shouting at people. Always strive to
be calmer than the other guy. Alexandra Mirghes.

This is the classic illusory victory. You might win the argument but lose the war. People turn to drugs both licit and otherwise to help manage these impulses, but I would assert most of the problem is simply a lack of awareness and personal discipline. If you struggle with such stuff then just get up tomorrow morning and resolve not be a jerk.

So, back to Star Trek. In looking for role models I would assert we should all strive to be less like Kirk and more like Spock. The next time you find yourself getting angry at the drive-through, on the freeway, in the medical clinic or at the DMV, take a deep breath and try to see things from a more global perspective. Be patient, show mercy, and ever strive to be the least chaotic guy in the room. Who knows, before you know it you might get a starship of your own.

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