The America we see every day in the news is one in which conflict, mean discourse, nativism, racism and other acts of negativity and violence are the soup du jour. Many in our country see an America that is deeply troubled, a country in which a mass shooting happens every week. Eight such shootings occurred since August 1st, two of which — El Paso and Dayton — resulted in 32 killed and 50 injured. As of August 5th, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, 256 mass shootings have been perpetrated in 2019, resulting 283 people killed.
Every day, we see an America in which no adult or child – not even a baby – is safe anymore. We see an America in which, everywhere we go, we seemingly place our lives at risk. We see an America where leaders cut down and disparage other leaders. We throw our hands up with discouragement because our country seems to be in an endless negative loop, and the America we see continues down a rabbit hole. As one presidential candidate proclaimed in a recent debate, we as a nation are doing nothing to address the spiritual and ethical “dark underbelly of America.” Even the White House Chief of Staff recently said, “We must fix society.”
So, where can we go for guidance?
I can only speak for myself. Several months ago, I stopped watching political shows. Too real. Too many talking heads pontificating a lot about nothing. Too much incivility and conflict. Instead, I started watching “Star Trek.” I started with “Star Trek Voyager” and smooth Captain Jonathan Archer, continued with “Star Trek Next Generation” and suave Captain Jean-Luc Picard and now I am watching “Star Trek Deep Space Nine” and skillful Captain Benjamin Sisko.
In one full year of watching “Star Trek,” I have been drawn to these leaders because they all have a common denominator: they are committed to working for the greater good of all, to unifying the disparate and often conflicting elements of the United Federation of Planets. These are worthwhile role models from whom our current-day leaders can learn.
Star Trek began as an allegory about human nature, and it is an apt example for today’s America. Lost in my imagination about the exploits of the Cardassians, Ferengis, Klingons, Bejorins, Vulcans and Borgs, I can’t help but hope for an America that — despite conflict — ends up with positive values, kindness and resolution. In Star Trek, warring parties may not walk away as friends, but they do walk away with a better understanding of each other. With my feelings of angst, anger and despair over the recent mass shootings and our propensity to confront one another but not resolve any issues, I can’t help but pine for a Star Trek America.
You see, every Star Trek episode reveals differences between different species. Some are warlike, some are peaceful, some are emotional, some are angry, some are conniving and some are terrorizing. In many ways, Star Trek is a potpourri of today’s America because it represents the different aspects of human nature and the diversity of our society.
But there is one difference. Because of the skillful maneuvering, negotiating, relationship-building and leadership of the captains and commanders, each episode concludes with resolution and conciliation. Conflict is met with dialogue and diplomacy — very occasionally with a volley of pulse torpedoes — but always with the objective of making peace and bringing people together. Verbal salvos and even war are means to the endgame of peace, not strategies toward creating fear and division.
And each episode imparts a moral message to those watching and to posterity. Mr. Spock’s parting words were always “Live long and prosper.” Sounds a lot like “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Perhaps if more Americans watched Star Trek instead of listening to politicians and talk show hosts, we would be repeating that warm sentiment more and more.
Here are some Star Trek quotes that have great relevance to current society and that have enabled me to envision a better America rooted in positive values and common-sense.
“The more we fight each other, the weaker we’ll get.” - Ferengi bar owner Quark
“Fear has given my people (the Klingons) an excuse to do what they were born to do — to fight and to conquer.” - Lieutenant Commander Worf
“Remember, under that placid veneer, humans are a bunch of violent savages.” - Quark
“One of the consequences of giving people freedom of choice is that sometimes they make the wrong choice.” - Deep Space Nine Security Chief Odo
“Compassion: that’s the one thing no machine ever had. Maybe it’s the one thing that keeps men ahead of them.” - Dr. Leonard McCoy
“I am pleased to see that we have differences. May we together become greater than the sum of our parts.” - Surak, Vulcan Philosopher
“One man cannot summon the future.” - Spock “ But one man can change the present.”
- Captain James T. Kirk
“Just because we don’t understand a life form doesn’t mean we can destroy it.”
- Captain Benjamin Sisko
“The future looks very bright, but this requires each of us acting for the common good.”
- Bejorin Religious Leader Kai
“The problem is when you’re not taking care of people because you have forgotten to care.”
- Dr. Julian Bashir, Deep Space Nine
“No matter how far we’ve traveled nor how fast we’ve gone, the most profound discoveries are not necessarily beyond that next star. They’re within us, woven into the threads that bind us, all of us to each other.” - Captain Jonathan Archer
“When you care about a place, and it’s in trouble, and you can’t do anything about it, it’s very frustrating.” - Chief Miles O’Brien, Deep Space Nine
“There is a way out of every box, a solution to every puzzle; it’s just a matter of finding it.”
- Captain Jean-Luc Picard
In Star Trek, the final frontier is never about reaching moons or stars. It has always been about
how we get along, how we take care of each other, how much we do care and how we become
our better selves. This exploration is about a people reflecting on who they are and then improving the human condition for all, a process that America now sorely needs. I believe that an America that is in perpetual conflict — daily projecting negativity, division and anger — creates a culture that encourages victimization, disparagement, hate and blame. This is the America of today, the America of mass-shootings. We need a new paradigm for leadership, relationships, positivity and civil discourse. We need a Star Trek America.
Stuart Muszynski is President and CEO of Values-in-Action Foundation, which through its Project Love®, VIA® Workforce Training, Purple America® and Be Kind® Stick Together® character-education programs, has 400,000 students participating in more than 1500 schools in all 50 states. Values-in-Action empowers students and adults to build communities of kindness, caring and respect through programs that teach, promote, and provide skills and tools that enable individuals to make positive values-based decisions every day. www.viafdn.org