Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season One, Episode One: Encounter at Farpoint Station
There is SO much in the episode to unpack regarding how we are to treat others! I will attempt to pick the overriding themes, but if you find something I did not cover, please feel free to go down that rabbit trail instead! This study is meant to help us explore our own morality and how well we are abiding by what we say we believe. If you or your group finds something else that you are excited to discuss, then chances are that topic has more relevance for you at this time. That does not mean that this week’s curriculum was a waste. It still created the opportunity to explore, and that is all it is meant to do! You may come back to it or move on, as you wish.
Topic One: Problematic Authority
In this episode there are three men who are in positions of significant authority.
Q, who is an example of someone with too much power and who believes he had an absolute authority.
Picard, who is an example of good authority, but also illuminates the problems within even the best systems, such as not being able to show any weakness or faults (here, it is his difficulty in dealing with children) and the loneliness of the position (as the conversation with Dr. Crusher and her son, Wesley, show that he is seen as a ‘pain,’ and someone people are afraid of, while Dr. Crusher points out that many in his position are lonely, and that Wesley’s father, who knew the captain prior to his having as much power, liked him very much).
Groppler Zorn is an example of a leader without much power, who, when an opportunity arises, takes advantage of someone weaker than him to rise in power. (Zorn, Gorn, Morn- there seems to be a naming theme here in the Star Trek franchise!) He justifies it by stating that the creature needed his help and he helped it, implying that the creature owes him or should be grateful and repay him. Picard points out that Zorn did the bare minimum, and in essence, used his ‘help’ to enslave the creature. The theme of enslavement is also repeated when Q brings up a past where humanity enslaved their military through the use of addictive drugs. The use of addiction in minority communities has been an accusation many have made against our government as well. (You may goggle this if you are unaware of this line of reasoning.)
It is Q’s power that we are most exposed to in this episode, so there are many examples of the type of behaviors that can occur when a person is given too much power. So, let us look at this more carefully.
Flaw One: A Double Standard: “I can do it, but you can’t”
There are excuses given to justify why it is okay for Q to do it, while he recognizes that it was bad when humanity did essentially the same things. He claims their faults make them a savage child race, but since he has power over them, the same obviously does not apply to him. A few of the examples of this are him accusing the humans of slaughtering millions, yet being quick to freeze Lt Torres, even though she posed no real threat considering his abilities, as well as the killing of the guard who lost to Lt Yar. Q accuses Picard of doing nothing when the Bandi city is being attacked, yet Q also did nothing, and does nothing when Picard begs him to save his people in the tunnels as well.
Flaw Two: Intimidation
Q attempts to intimidate the humans as he allows the guard to fire into the air and the ground at the trial and freezes people at will. His great power, which in this case he cannot help having, is also intimidating, and he uses it to intimidate, rather than attempting to communicate on a more even playing field. It is clear that if you upset Q, there will be severe consequences.
Flaw Three: Micromanaging
Q arrives in the middle of the test are attempts to get Captain Picard to speed things up. Picard tells Q that if he wants to judge them based on who they are now, he must allow them to do things their way.
The Bible gives us examples of both good and bad leadership. Since this episode shows us what a bad leader looks like, let us look more closely at Abraham, a good leader.
Abraham takes care of those who are under his care, empowering them. He raises his nephew, Lot. Since they moved to new land, there is no inheritance for Lot in this new land. As Lot is a member of his tribe, Abraham could keep everything for himself, yet he allots a portion for Lot, and trains him to manage it. Lot’s share equals his own. When Lot’s people begin to have disagreements with Abraham’s people, he allows Lot to have his choice of where to settle as they separate. He is truly meek- strong, but not using one’s strength unless needed.
Abraham also honors his wife Sarah. When the three angels visit, he helps with the meal. Sarah is barren, yet he continues to honor her as his only wife. He also listens to her ideas, and her decisions are honored, sometimes, as in the case of Ishmael’s banishment, against what he wishes to have happen.
Abraham is also strong, able to defeat 5 kings when he rescues Lot, yet he lives in tents at peace with the cities around him.
1. What leadership flaws have you experienced? How did you handle them? Captain Picard gives us some examples of how a good leader stood up to over-reaching authority, but in reality, Picard’s methods do not always work, as Q ‘type’ leadership is very authoritative and powerful and you are relying on the ‘goodness’ of the leader when you appeal to their sense of morality by attempting to reason with them. This means that Q is not as bad as he could be, but he still not great…. Remember, Gandhi successfully appealed to the British Empire, but his methods did not have the same effect when dealing with Germany and their allies. It is much easier to be a ‘good’ leader when the balance of power between you and the person you are dealing with is not as vast as it is here.
2. What flaws in leadership are you prone to? Some of us like being in authority and have a tendency to tell people what to do without first listening and taking into account their needs, desires, feelings etc. Others of us have a tendency, like Zorn, to see a promising situation and pounce on it, taking advantage of the underdog, and justifying it. Honestly discuss which issues you are prone to and problem solve how you can avoid giving in to your more problematic behaviors in the future.
3. Are there people who are being ‘helped’ in a way that ultimately keeps them from a certain level of achieving, even though the help is needed? Are there better ways to help, and how can you improve how the help is given? Remember, because the people are used to a certain way of being ‘helped,’ they have likely bought into whatever half-truths have been told to them, and, like every other human, will likely resist change, this may not be an easy process. What problems within the community that is being ‘helped,’ also need to be overcome before a better system can be adopted? Are you part of a community where the ‘help’ is actually as much of a problem, as it is a cure? If small steps are needed, what are those steps, and how can you make sure those small steps are not used to take further advantage of this population? Can this occur on an individual basis? (Think about codependent relationships, and why they seem good, but are in reality bad.) Does everyone who ‘helps’ in a way that results in further dependence mean to oppress people, or is it occasionally an unintended consequence of good intentions? Are you in, or have you been in, a codependent relationship, and if so, how do you change so that a healthier relationship evolves? Look at this situation from both sides, the person who needs the help, and the person who is giving help.
Topic Two: Interacting With People Who Are Different From Yourself
This episode introduces us to the crew of the Star Trek Enterprise. In introducing us to the various crewmembers, we are shown each crewman’s uniqueness, and given a situation where another crewmember responds to these unique characteristics.
Counselor Troi is an empath. She senses what others feel. Her abilities are respected, and her need to close her mind when it becomes too much is respected, though when she is needed, her abilities are respectfully requested, while acknowledging that it will be difficult for her. Many people with empathic tendencies need their downtime. The crew’s treatment of Counselor Troi is a good example to follow, understanding that some personalities need some alone time to recover from their social interactions.
Commander Data is an android. There are things about the human experience that he struggles to understand, and he does not always say things in the most complimentary way, but when he explains what he means, it becomes obvious that his statement was just a statement of fact and not meant as a put down. He is socially awkward, but the crew understands his thinking process is different from theirs, and respects his differences, helping him understand with compassion when able.
Geordi LaForge and his visor is another topic of conversation. He has a ‘disability’ which has disadvantages, such as constant pain, but he chooses the pain and need for a visor over being “normal” due to the advantages it confers. Many people with disabilities choose different methods of managing their environment based on the plusses and minuses inherent in each method. Some of these adaptations may be seen as ‘odd’ by others. It is important to listen to the person’s reasoning, and actually attempt to understand why they have chosen the methods they have found to be most advantageous instead of forcing them to accommodate to change so that others are more comfortable. Dr. Crusher does a great job demonstrating this in her interactions with a patient whom she would initially love to ‘fix.’
Warf and Lt Yar are both great examples of people whose sympathetic nervous system is on overdrive and they are more likely to fight than flee. Lt Yar’s tendencies are due to a childhood in an abusive/ neglectful environment. Warf’s inclinations are due to growing up with a cultural identity that values confrontation. Captain Picard deals with their reactive nature through logic, and they listen, understand and change their behavior based on acknowledging through reason that Captain Picard does have a better plan, even though it goes against what their backgrounds have trained them to do.
Dr. Crusher has a traumatic past which involves Captain Picard. The Captain assumes, wrongly, that she would want a transfer due to this past. She explains, and Picard understands and respects her wishes to remain under his command, stating that he will work on building a relationship with her.
Captain Picard is awkward with children. He realizes that as a captain, he has an image to maintain and this fault may compromise the image he is trying to project. He asks Commander Riker for help, and instead of shaming him, or explaining that he ‘just needs to do this,’ Riker understands and offers to help. When Picard fumbles his interactions with Wesley, he apologizes and seeks to do better.
Wesley Crusher is a high IQ teen who does not completely understand proper social interactions when interacting with those in authority as his excitement overrides his ability to bow to authority as most adults and commanding officers expect. His mother does a great job both instructing her son and advocating for him at the same time.
Commander Riker is an ambitious person who has forsaken a relationship with Counselor Troi to pursue his career. He is tested by Picard and told to manually dock the battle bridge with the saucer section, which can be done automatically. Instead of arguing, he agrees, and does well. He is also accused by Dr. Crusher of creating drama to impress his captain. He does not become offended, but instead is patient, standing his ground and allowing Dr. Crusher to further observe and adjust her own conclusions. He is ambitious, but he knows how to properly handle challenges. He does not take them personally, nor does he become defensive.
In the Bible we see Jonathan’s son, Mephiboseth, who is crippled. King David, at a time when leadership is expected to be able to defend their holdings, and crippled people are often left begging on mats in the city, makes sure Mephiboseth has his backing and is able to maintain what his father has left him.
1. All of us have flaws. What are your flaws? How do you handle them? Are you too hard on yourself, or do you make excuses instead of finding solutions? How can you handle your imperfections in a healthier manner?
2. Go through the list of personalities we are introduced to through the characters in Star Trek. You can add others I have not listed if you wish. Think of people in your life who are similar to these characters. How do you treat them? Are you understanding, or do you reply with quick, seemingly easy ‘solutions’ that assume the person who is living differently than you could be ‘fixed’ if they only listened to your brilliant advice? How are you at listening to others, striving to understand why they have made the decisions they have made, and do you give them the benefit of believing they are probably smart enough to have thought of whatever solution you could have come up with in very little time and that there is a good reason they are not following what you believe to be obvious and good advice? (This is a major complaint of people with disabilities by the way…)
3. There are people is every environment who are ‘punished’ by the group for being different. The people we are speaking of in this section are people whose differences do not affect their job, but just make others uncomfortable at times, either due to their disability or because they are ‘odd’ socially or in some other way. In life many ‘good’ people ignore these individuals, and while they are not mean, they avoid the person in such a way that the person feels excluded and unloved by the group. The person eventually leaves, or perhaps becomes depressed/ suicidal, even though their work is occasionally superior to what others are doing and they are not purposely hurtful to others. Like David, do you support these people, seeking to make sure that what is due to them is protected? Do you seek to understand this person, and ensure they have a place in the group that they are comfortable with, understanding that some people do not want extensive social interaction as well?
Topic Three: Handling Your Enemies
The creature who becomes Farpoint station is hurt. He (she?) uses subtle, passive methods to get the attention of the crew of the Enterprise, such as changing things to meet their expressed wishes. Likely the creature is trying to avoid punishment, while still accomplishing its goal. The methods work, and the creature is rescued.
The creature’s mate arrives and attacks the Bindi settlement, killing people, in an attempt to free its mate. As soon as the situation is resolved, and the mate is free, the creatures leave without further retaliation.
The crew of the Enterprise help the wounded creature by supplying it with all the energy it needs. (The Bindi have been giving it only enough to survive, keeping it weak and reliant on them for life.) Revived, the creature can now free itself. The deal with the Federation however, is not completely rescinded in light of what the Bindi did. Instead, the terms are that they must build the station themselves if they are to have a deal with the Federation.
In the Bible we are given a variety of commands regarding our enemies. There are times when armies are formed and the enemy is killed. There are other times however, when extreme mercy, not characteristic of the time, is shown, and forgiveness, not revenge is expected. God states that ‘vengeance’ is for Him alone to meet out. This indicates that the punishments in the Bible are for self-defense or a part of the justice system of the time. (Remember, there were no jails or ways to put people in prison for life, so the punishments may seem harsh to us today, but may have been necessary in a small town with no method of protecting its people from repeat offenders.)
Topic One: Vengeance
1. In this episode the Bindi are not punished for enslaving the creature by its mate. Once its mate is free, the creatures leave, happy to be reunited, even though both have the power to do much harm. The Federation too, only insists that the next station be built by the Bindi themselves. There is little retribution for what the Bindi have done, though in the course of freeing its mate, settlements are destroyed and people die. Was the destruction of the settlement punishment enough? Or, should there have been additional ‘sanctions’ etc to ensure that this never happens again? Think about whether, or not, the Bindi seem to have learned from this experience.
2. How do we determine when a punishment has been adequate and the need for further punishment has passed? Think of a time when someone wronged you. How did you react? Were you too passive, giving them permission to repeat the offense? Or, were you vengeful, going too far and perhaps being unjust/ cruel? Do you hold long term grudges and are there still people in your life that are receiving negativity from you for things that have long since passed? Is passive-aggressive behavior ever okay, or should consequences be straight forward.
3. When should mercy be shown? In the Bible we are instructed to turn the other cheek to a mild offense, go the extra mile when someone asks for a favor, even if we find it oppressive (such as carrying the pack of a Roman soldier while we are a conquered people) or giving someone who steals our coat, our shirt as well. We are also instructed to bless those who persecute us. When is it time for justice in our society, and when should mercy be shown? Think of a time you were grateful for the mercy of another. How did that affect your life? Was it positive, or would punishment have motivated you more towards a better life?
(FYI: The purpose of carrying the Roman soldier’s pack was so the soldier would have his hands free to defend the travelers if they were attacked. There was a limit to how far a soldier could make an individual carry the pack before it had to be given to another. The Romans saw this as practical and merciful. The Jewish people saw it as just another act of oppression, and often refused to do it, putting the soldier in an uncomfortable position as he could either ignore the refusal, showing that he had no real authority and perhaps be left with his hands full when he was needed to defend the people or, he could arrest the person who refused, leaving the group undefended while he took care of the matter. Punishments for soldiers who failed at their jobs were harsh, and the Romans were proud of maintaining ‘safe’ roads, so the soldier was also looking at possible consequences to himself if he were judged to have made the wrong decision. Bonus question: Are there times in our society when a ‘merciful’ act (something meant for good) is seen in a negative light by the people who are supposedly being ‘helped?’)
4. Think about your parenting. (If you are not a parent, either think about this hypothetically, or apply it to a situation where you do have authority over others.) How do you determine when to punish, how much to punish, when the punishment is over, and when to show mercy?
Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season One: Episode Two: The Naked Now
The Enterprise has been sent to investigate odd messages that are being sent from a research vessel investigating a star that is transitioning from a Red Giant to a White Dwarf star. The messages are sexually inappropriate, with indications of party-like behavior in the background. An emergency hatch is blown and when the Enterprise arrives there is no sign of life aboard the research vessel. An away team is sent, and finds evidence of a wild party…..
Topic One: Wanting to Be Different
Throughout the Next Generation series we will observe Data wishing to be more human. Here we see Geordi, who has never expressed significant discontent with his vision, wanting to see like others, even though he admits that others’ sight is less precise than his own. For very high IQ individuals, wanting to be able to socialize more ‘normally’ is often wished for, even though their high IQ is the problem and undoubtably has many benefits.
We also see Lt Yar wishing to be more like Counselor Troi, wearing pretty clothes and complicated hairstyles. When Troi indicates that this type of behavior is not for her, Lt Yar storms off to find help elsewhere.
In the Bible, Saul, who is king, is rebuked when he performs sacrifices instead of Samuel, who is late. This is not the role of a king in this instance. Although he has a ‘good excuse,’ the person who is to do it is running late, he has overstepped his authority, and tried to become everything, instead of what he has been called to be.
1. When in life is trying to change good, leading you to expand your abilities and knowledge? And, when is it a sign that you are wrongly discontent with who you are, and struggling to fit into a mold you were never made for?
2. What pressures in life cause us to be discontent with ourselves? When are these ‘good’ pressures, which cause us to better ourselves? When are they negative pressures, pushing us to conform in ways that are not proper? How can we correct situations in which the pressure to conform is inappropriate and hurtful to an individual? (Think about how to deal with these pressures ourselves as well as how to help another who is experiencing these pressures in many situations including work, social settings and on social media.)
Topic Two: Knowledge Versus Maturity: Do We Need Both?
So, since he is intoxicated by the contagion, this episode is not entirely sympathetic to Wesley’s plight, but his issues are very real and do not end when the effects of the intoxicant wears off. Wesley bemoans the fact that he has full knowledge of everything to do with the bridge, yet he is not allowed to be on the bridge. He is bright, but still a child, and he has not gone through all of the training, exams, and experiences required to be part of the bridge crew.
In the Bible we see Solomon, a king, ask and receive wisdom from God. He still makes mistakes even though his wisdom is great, and writes a book, Ecclesiastes, telling us the pitfalls of many of the not so great behaviors he has engaged in, such as accumulating women and chasing wealth.
In the past, professions such as doctor or lawyer could be learned through self-study and/or apprenticeships. Tests were eventually available to certify that someone had enough experience to practice in these fields. Now, specific schooling is a must for professions such as these in order to practice legally in the fields.
1. How much does experience, age and maturity matter? Would you want to be treated by a brilliant, but teen-aged surgeon? A teen electrician? Would you hire a ten-year old but very mature babysitter? Years ago, a woman with Down’s Syndrome became a kindergarten teacher. Concerns were raised, not about whether or not she could do her daily job, which she was obviously good at, but whether she could handle emergency situations that sometimes arise. We also train pastors and psychologists through college degree programs, but would you really be comfortable in your 40s or 50s having someone in their mid-twenties counseling you on marital issues or parenting (though they might be able to tell you what your older children are thinking!)? What types of jobs or responsibilities require an advanced level of critical thinking, and how can we assess for it?
2. There are times in life when we feel overly qualified for a position and the world around us does not agree. What type of self-examination can we do to see our faults and correct either a misperception we are conveying, or a very real flaw that is holding us back? Obviously, Wesley is young, which in this society typically excludes one from the type of responsibilities he wishes for. How can he prove that he is the exception to a societal norm? How can you work to avoid or change misperceptions of your abilities as well?
3. Wesley does well, changing the tractor beam into a repulsor beam and using it to save the Enterprise despite being affected by the intoxicant. Picard reluctantly gives him credit, saying he ‘may have given us a few seconds.’ When Riker points out that Wesley deserves a mention in the logs, Picard seeks to include Wesley’s teacher in the log as well, still not fully convinced that Wesley deserves credit and diluting his accomplishments. Wesley’s mother, Dr Crusher, does a good job advocating for Wesley when the bridge crew expresses confusion over his accomplishments by firmly stating, ‘Yes, Wesley.’ There is a bias here, especially for Captain Picard who has difficulty interacting with children. There are reasons for this bias, as typically children do not perform to the level that Wesley has. How do we ensure we are not being biased against someone who seems to achieve when we do not think such behavior is possible from someone like them- say a child from a home known to be troubled, who does not behave poorly and excels in school? What safeguards need to be in place to ensure we are not wrong when giving responsibility to a person whom we have reason to believe does not have the traditional background that typically prepares one for what we are entrusting the person with? You will need to pick some examples specific to your situations for this discussion, as this is too vast and vague a topic to discuss in general terms. Some examples may be hiring a person who would be in a position to steal from you, who is from an area with a high incidence of criminal activity. How can we advocate for the person if we believe them to be treated unfairly, how can we make sure we are not making assumptions ourselves that are not true for this individual and how can we be careful and ensure we are not being conned by someone who knows how to present themselves as something other than what they are?
4. What behaviors do people use to diminish and negate the accomplishments of people that they do not believe deserve them, even when the person has obviously done a superior job? Here, we see Captain Picard use watered-down language such as ‘may’ instead of ‘did’ and ‘a few seconds’ instead of saying ‘the seconds we needed’ to describe Wesley’s accomplishments. He also seeks to include Wesley’s science teacher in the log, when credit is given, indicating that Wesley may have been given help, when he obviously was not. What behaviors have you experienced and seen that have diluted or stolen credit from people who deserved it? How can you counter these tactics without looking self-serving or problematic? How can you help others who are struggling with authority that refuses to acknowledge their contributions, or worse, steals their ideas? When have you used these tactics yourself? Why, and what can you do to ensure you are not being unfair to others in the future?
Topic Three: Ploys and Tactics
Data is sent to retrieve Lt Yar. She wishes to be romantic, something Data is programmed for, but not inclined to pursue. She uses logic, and asks him if the captain specified when the order was to be carried out. Data states that he is sure the captain meant now. She then explains the situation of her past and why she longs for gentleness, joy and love. Data seemingly weighs her needs against the captain’s order, which did not include a specific timetable, and decides her needs are currently more important than immediate compliance.
Wesley too uses ploys to trick officers into leaving the bridge, and tricks Captain Picard into telling him what to do (use the tractor beam on the research vessel) in order to gain control of the bridge and feel like he is part of the crew.
In the Bible we see many ploys including a prophet tricked into eating when God told him not to, by a false prophet who stated God gave him an overriding instruction, satan telling Adam and Eve that the fruit would be good for them, and a king being lulled in to complacency by supposed friendly rulers who shows them all of the treasures of his kingdom, which they return later to take by force.
1. What are some ploys you have fallen victim to? How could you have avoided believing the person/ company? Are there ploys that are impossible to avoid? How can we, as a society, work to decrease the number of scams and keep the more naïve in our society safe?
2. What are the factors that make us easy to deceive? How can we teach people to be wary, without creating a culture of undue skepticism and fear? One thing I have noticed is that many ploys are aimed at a vulnerable population such as the elderly, tourists or new immigrants etc. Why are these populations vulnerable and how can we work to protect them in a real way- not just through legislation? Why does legislation not always work?
3. When have you used ploys? Are they always bad? Think about trying to set up a meeting with a person you are interested in romantically or wish to make a business connection with, etc. One of our friends, in high school, asked a girl to a party at his house. She was the only person he invited and when she arrived, he pretended other were invited but unfortunately no one else showed up, making him an object of pity as well, which could have backfired… They are now married. This was obviously wrong, and he wonders why his father-in-law to be gave him a long lecture when he asked for his future wife’s hand, when he later merely welcomed the other sons-in-law to be into the family…. There are of course ploys that are less problematic, and he was a gentleman despite his subterfuge that night, and they are still happily married years later, with many children, and daughters whom he would likely not want someone like his former self to be dating! So, while this example is obviously not the best behavior, the ploy was acknowledged and forgiven. When are ploys inherently evil, and when are subtle ruses forgivable?