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Life Lessons from Star Trek
≈ Star Date September, 2016 ≈
By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD


Without followers, evil cannot spread.
Mr. Spock, Season 3

September 2016 is the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. Fifty years of Star Trek on television (five different series) with a new show, Star Trek: Discovery, due to premier on CBS All Access in January, 2017. And 13 motion pictures beginning in 1979, with the most recent release this past summer: Star Trek: Beyond. The original series, developed by screenwriter and producer Gene Roddenberry, was campy, sophomoric, and way ahead of its time. The moral and ethical philosophy of Star Trek includes 50 years of highly entertaining lessons on coping skills and social skills.

The United Federation of Emotional Intelligence

In Star Trek, Capt. Kirk, the commander of the Enterprise, is emotional, impulsive, and passionate. His emotional intensity is balanced by Science Officer Mr. Spock. Spock is half-human, but operates mostly from his logical Vulcan side. An effective balance between emotion and logic is a cornerstone of emotional intelligence and effective social skills (which parallels the alliance of diverse species in the United Federation of Planets). And Spock’s logic often reflected an evolved level of moral and ethical principles – a hallmark of emotional and social intelligence. For example, when the Enterprise returned to the 20th century to save the humpback whales, he remarked that “To hunt a species to extinction is not logical.” To which, the 20th century marine veterinarian Dr. Gillian Taylor replied, “Whoever said the human race was logical?” This balance of emotion with logic is one of our most essential coping skills.

The appropriate expression of primary emotions like anger is another indication of emotional intelligence and good coping skills. Doc McCoy (“Bones”) would frequently express frustration and anger in a manner that was both authentic and endearing (“Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor, not a physicist!”) This was a great example of using effective social skills to manage an emotional crisis.

To Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before

The main premise of Star Trek is “…to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations…” One of our most important coping skills is to face our fears and “boldly go” toward the challenges and goals that will improve and expand our personal universe. Capt. James T. Kirk epitomized the no risk – no reward approach to life. He always believed in a positive outcome, and he would never give up. For Kirk, there was no such thing as a no-win scenario. Starfleet designed a simulation called the Kobayashi Maru to test the character of its cadets – the test was designed as a no-win situation. Kirk found a way to defeat the test, saying “I changed the conditions of the test. I don’t like to lose.” The Starfleet Academy questioned his integrity, but could never question his charming social skills – and his ability to get the job done and save humanity.

Aliens are Us – Diversity, Acceptance, and Inclusion

Star Trek aliens are a mirror in which we see the best and worst of ourselves—and one in which we see that we’re not as different from one another as we might think.
Alex Fitzpatrick – TIME’s Star Trek: Inside the Most Influential Science-Fiction Series Ever

Fifty years ago Star Trek explored the strange new world of diversity. The original TV series cast included a racially and culturally diverse group of men and women – many of them in leadership roles. In the fictional 23rd Century, the Star Trek crew found a galaxy full of diverse life forms. The show often emphasized the importance of social skills in sharing the universe with alien creatures. Positive, life-affirming social and coping skills such as non-judgmental acceptance, inclusive practices at work and in communities, teamwork, negotiation and compromise. Skills that seem to be practiced all too infrequently in our relationships and today’s world in general.

The Prime Directive

In the fictional universe of Star Trek, the Prime Directive is the guiding principle of the United Federation of Planets. The Prime Directive is a non-interference policy which prohibits Starfleet personnel from interfering with the internal development of alien civilizations. In our current world, this remarkable philosophy and practice is often ignored by governments, families, couples and individuals. As a social skill, non-interference respects the autonomy and free will of others. As a coping skill non-interference helps us maintain serenity and balance by practicing unconditional acceptance and positive regard for other people’s rights, opinions, and behavior.

Character & Friendship

I have been . . . and always shall be . . . your friend.
Mr. Spock, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

On the starship Enterprise, friendship and character always trump ego and explosions. That’s one reason why I’m a Trekkie. The best Star Trek shows and movies are character-driven. And what characters they are! Full of life, love, passion, and friendship – along with Vulcan morals and logical practicality. The movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is a prime example of friendship and effective social skills across the centuries. And the newest Star Trek movies faithfully replicate (pardon the pun for you Trekkies!) these wonderful characters, and the relationship chemistry in their friendship.

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Capt. Jean Luc Picard was a great leader with impeccable character traits. His advanced coping skills were demonstrated beautifully when he accepted an alien presence on his starship, attempting to understand and negotiate with the unwelcome life form – instead of resorting to power struggles and phaser guns.

Sacrifice and selflessness

Many of the problems in our world today can be traced to greed, a sense of entitlement, ego and narcissism. In Star Trek, personality traits, communities, and evolved governments operate from a sense of mutual cooperation for the common good. Social skills such as sacrifice and selflessness seem old-fashioned today, but not in the 23rd Century. In a poignant scene in The Wrath of Khan, Spock says, “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Captain Kirk answers, “Or the one.” Imagine the possibilities for creating more satisfying relationships – and a better world – when we mindfully use this type of coping skill to solve our problems.

For more information about social skills and coping skills, or to set up an appointment for a consultation, please contact us today. And to all of our friends, colleagues and families, “Live long and prosper!”