Treknobabble #69: Make a Difference


Treknobabble is a continuing series of columns written by uber-Trekkie Reed Farrington leading up to and following the release of J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie.

“Don’t let them promote you. Don’t let them transfer you. Don’t let anything take you off the bridge of that ship. Because while you’re there, you can make a difference.”
– Kirk to Picard before Picard convinces Kirk to help him, resulting in Kirk’s “death”.

Hopefully, when you try to make a difference, you won’t end up dying like Kirk. But that’s the risk I suppose that’s worth taking. I guess it’s the same message that’s in the latest movie when Pike dares Kirk to do better than Kirk’s father. And in a famous Kirk soliloquy from an Original Series’ episode, “Return to Tomorrow,” Kirk passionately says, “Risk is our business.”

I’ve been in semi-retirement for six months now. And I can’t seem to relax. My mind keeps thinking that I should do something with my life. The best years have passed me by; however, if my health remains well, I still have half my life with which to accomplish something. Being in a state of inertia, I think I’ll most likely not do anything with my life. Even knowing that on my death bed that I’ll regret not having done anything, I still can’t motivate myself to do anything.

I guess the problem is I don’t know what to do with my life. I suppose I could take classes for self-improvement, but that wouldn’t really make me happy and it wouldn’t make a difference to other people. I suppose I could volunteer my time to help others, but helping individuals doesn’t seem like a worthwhile pursuit in the grand scheme of things. What I mean is that there will always be people who need help. I understand that helping others is important even for the person who does the helping. It helps a person maintain his humility. I’m going to contradict myself now. It’s important to help individuals. But for me, that’s not enough.

Looking back, I had the grades and opportunities to go into any line of work. I never think of “intelligent” people entering into occupations like police officer or firefighter. I know I’m getting into trouble by being so frank. I know serving people in these capacities is important and I do appreciate the selfless nature that is required. Anyway, I’ve always valued my life too highly to put it at risk like these people do. Never was much of a talker, so being a lawyer was out of the question. Many parents dream of their sons and daughters entering the medical profession. Besides being squeamish around real blood (especially my own), I think being a doctor or dentist falls into that category of helping individuals which is not my thing. I like to engage in tasks that have some clear goal. Helping people live as long as possible doesn’t do it for me.

Since I had an affinity for mathematics, I found myself having a choice between a career in computer science or aerospace engineering. I thought I might find more opportunities with a computer science degree, so I took this pragmatic choice. While at university, I had the opportunity to work with the Canadian astronauts for some co-op work terms. There was a part of me that harbored the thought that I could become a Canadian astronaut, but being with these first set of Canadian astronauts made me think that I didn’t have the “right stuff.” Besides the academic qualifications and high-risk nature of the position, the public relations aspect of being an astronaut seemed daunting. When Star Trek: Generations later came out, I was reminded of the uncomfortableness of dealing with the press during the scene when Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov are on the bridge of the Enterprise-B.

When I graduated, I didn’t want to use my computer science degree to work on databases for the lucrative bank or brewery industries. I managed to find a position writing software for biomedical purposes. This was interesting for a while, but ended up being a dead end job. So I switched into video game programming. This too was a dead end. Perhaps I’ve reached the limits of my capabilities, but I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life working on stuff that I didn’t care about.

It’s time to put away the plush toys and grow up. Part of my ego thinks I should be spending time working on a “cure for cancer,” but where does one begin? To me, the way the world runs doesn’t offer much in pursuing that goal. Everyone including myself seems only to be looking out for himself. But I know there are people who are able to overcome obstacles, create opportunities for themselves, and succeed despite the odds.

If Star Trek were a reality, I suppose I might think about enlisting in Starfleet. Exploring the universe seems like a worthwhile pursuit. I lack the confidence as well as a multitude of other attributes to ever be a Starfleet captain though. I’d probably end up being a red shirt. Unless you were a part of the bridge crew or had shapely legs, I can’t imagine life on a starship to be too exciting. (In the Original Series, Kirk would often choose a comely female scientist to accompany the landing party. I love feminism!)

Instead of making a difference, I find myself watching a lot of movies and television. William Shatner used to answer the question of the importance of Star Trek with “Star Trek is just a television show” or with some other equally dismissive response. This was a good way to deflate the self-importance that many non-Trekkies thought people associated with the show felt. But to be fair, Star Trek does offer inspiration. And not just for future doctors, engineers, and NASA employees. When tragedy strikes, people look to entertainment to feel better. And Star Trek’s vision of the future can give optimism to people during bad times. I’ve mentioned before how some episodes like The Next Generation’s “Tapestry” have made me take a look at my life. I suppose it’s up to me to do something with the message.

I suppose people find the raising of children to be the most important aspect of life. If we can’t make a difference, then at least perhaps our children might. And I do realize that every life is important in ways that aren’t always apparent. The popularity of the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” each year at Christmas time is a testament to that message. We can’t all be Captain Kirk, but the U.S.S. Enterprise doesn’t fly on his charisma alone.

I’ve been reading a book called Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill by Matthieu Ricard. Ricard is a Buddhist monk who earlier had a promising career as a cellular geneticist. Ricard seems to be in favor of suppressing negative emotions like desire, hatred and envy. I wonder why the Vulcans didn’t try this instead of suppressing all emotion. Is it even possible to suppress only the negative emotions while reveling only in the positive emotions like compassion and love? One might argue that you can’t have one without the other, but I think that having an understanding of something doesn’t mean one has to agree with it or express it.

In order to put an end to the incessant wars on Vulcan, the Vulcan people made the drastic decision to put their faith in a philosophical leader, Surak, who taught the suppression of all emotion. Those who disagreed with Surak left Vulcan to found their own planets. The Romulans are offshoots of Vulcans. Surak seems to have been a good influence. War was no longer a problem. (Vulcans even practiced vegetarianism before the practice became popular with humans.)

According to my understanding of Buddhism, happiness is leading an altruistic life. But I don’t understand what a Buddhist priest accomplishes besides leading a peaceful life and spreading peace. If everyone was a Buddhist, nothing would get done. I mean the world wouldn’t progress. Maybe that’s what true happiness is. But that’s not the type of world that Star Trek believes in. Captain Kirk would always be destroying computers that controlled worlds with everyone living in bliss. His argument for interfering was that living should be more than merely existing. Life should be about making a difference. Not just in helping others, but in pursuing the broad questions. Like the meaning of life not only within ourselves but in the universe we live.

Note: Can anyone spot the non-Star Trek plush toy in the above photo? (Sorry, I don’t have a nifty prize for the person who gives the first correct answer.)

  • Chris

    Wait a minute…Canada has astronauts? Get out of here.

  • this is the greatest thing ever. i’ve been reading it all day.

    “If Star Trek were a reality, I suppose I might think about enlisting in Starfleet.”

    So wild and cool! wish I’d said that.


  • Chris, next Monday, Canada will have two astronauts on the International Space Station. There will be a total of thirteen crew members – twelve men, one woman. (I guess no one is superstitious.) The one woman will be a Canadian. If anything happens to the Earth’s population, then the future of the human race will depend on a Canadian woman! (I’m writing the screenplay right now.)

    LOUIS, I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic, but I appreciate your comment anyway.

  • It’s obvious to me what you should do…wait for it

    get a job working for Greg

    Hang in there Reed and remember you are never alone in your struggles, they are common to many. I quote Stanley Kubrick (this is a film site) he said to Nicole Kidman during Eyes Wide Shut, “Pursue what you love with full abandoned and never apologize to anyone for it.” I probably butchered that, but you get the point. Your Buddhist comments stood out – I don’t think Buddhist look at work / endeavors as you may think. There is joy in the task and a task done well.

  • rus in chicago, thx this time for making a comment without disparaging me. Ha ha. I did want to write about my particular situation with the hopes that people could relate based on their own circumstances. And without sounding too pathetic.

    I’ve read books written with the Dalai Lama. I guess I was writing about one path I had investigated and how it seemed to lead “nowhere.” I admit that I was afraid I might offend Buddhists, not to mention police officers and fire fighters. Ha ha.

    BTW, I didn’t think Kubrick was the type of person to offer that kind of advice to anyone. My problem is that I don’t love to do anything in particular. I think I like to do bits of everything.

  • John Locke

    Reed, did you go to the University of Waterloo?

  • Yes, John Locke, I’m ashamed to admit that I graduated from that institute of ill repute.

  • John Locke

    Reed Farrington said “I’m ashamed to admit that I graduated from that institute of ill repute.”

    Are you being serious about being ashamed? University of Waterloo is said to have the best reputation for Computer Science/Math in Canada. That was one of the reasons I chose to attend it over much financially cheaper alternatives. Bill Gates said that in most years Microsoft hire more people from UWaterloo then any other university in the world, which says something. Anyways, nice to know Reed went to my school :) Did you get any action with the hot girls from Wilfrid Laurier? ;)

  • John, I’m sorry to say that I hated my time at the University of Waterloo. I didn’t even bother getting a graduation photo taken. And due to some cosmic kharma, my Dad’s film roll containing photos of my graduation ceremony got messed up at the processing lab. I think what I hated most about the institution is probably the reason some people might find the school attractive. The university is geared to getting graduates into the workforce. The research seems highly geared for commercial purposes. I must admit though that I admire the Blackberry guys for starting the Perimeter Institute.

    I attended one party at Laurier. In the words of Elvis Costello, I got “No Action.” I had buried myself in books during high school, and I thought I would take some time to have some fun at university. I knew I was unattractive, but I hoped I could get by on personality and my sense of humor. And then I discovered I had no personality and no sense of humor. Ha ha. (Cue the violin music.)

  • Reed, I share your sentiments. I, too, am retired and I have way too much time on my hands. I feel listless.

    But I don’t feel I need to “make a difference.” The world doesn’t need me. I just want to find some joy in my life.

    Like you, I don’t have a passion for anything in particular, although I am currently on a photography kick. I also enjoy archery and blogging. I may take up iaido in the near future.

    The key to being happy is to learn to relax, to focus on the present moment. Take the time to smell the roses, feel the sun on your face, hear the soft music. Savour the taste of an ice cream. Get a nice massage. Take a dip in the pool of the senses.

    In doing so, you will find your inner peace. Then you will open yourself up to possibilities. Ideas will naturally flow toward you.

  • Richard, so very nice to hear from you! I thought the New Age scene was over. Ha ha. Just kidding. I hear you. I’m guessing you’ve read Lin Yutang’s The Importance of Living – The Classic Bestseller That Introduced Millions to the Noble Art of Leaving Things Undone.

    I have no idea what iaido is, but I’m guessing it’s a martial art.

    So what do you do with the ideas that “naturally flow toward you”? (I ask this rhetorically, being the stupid-aleck I am.)

  • Iaido is the Art of the Sword. I’ve always been interested in Japanese swordsmanship.

    So far, the ideas that flow to me haven’t led me to a new career, or to what to do with my life. But I’m patient.

    However, I am finding life much more relaxing and enjoyable. Lowering stress is a huge reward all on its own.

    BTW, re: New Age scene, Eastern philosophies have been around forever. They’re not a fad. Encapsulated within them is the wisdom of the ages.