If I had to put together a list of the most influential people in my life, one of the men on the top of that list would be Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Although this man was the fictional captain of a 24th century starship in a TV show, his leadership style and thinking have given me a very high standard to look up to and replicate in my own life.
Here are three scenes with Picard that stuck with me.
Measure of a man
In the episode “Measure of a man”, the captain is put in a very difficult position when a member of his crew called “Data” is accused of not being fit to serve on his ship. In fact, he is being judged on whether he is even self-aware. That is because he is a robot and deemed by some to not have the ability to choose and make decisions for himself. They want to dismantle him and make copies of him to serve the Federation. This would effectively kill him and destine his clones to a life of slavery.
We stuggle with this same topic today, almost 30 years after the airing of the episode. As computers become more and more powerful, how will we know when they should have the right to make choices about their own destiny and fate? How will we decide?
Picard chose to stand on the side of Data, to believe in him and his ability to learn and transcend his programming. He chose to believe that he will become a powerful individual capable of living his own life and making choices and mistakes.
It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose
Just a few episodes later, Data was hesitating about his abilities and crippled by self-doubt. He told the captain, that he does not want to be part of a mission because he might make errors and fail. To this, Picard told him to leave his self-doubt in his quarters and gently reminded him:
It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose.
That is not a weakness.
That is life.
Sometimes I still worry too much about making mistakes. It gets to the point that I become paralyzed and neurotic about making them. Mistakes and errors will be made since the world is complex and we cannot take everything into account all of the time. That is a fact. It takes courage to admit we could lose even if we tried our best and made no mistakes.
And it takes even more courage to own up to mistakes and then lead the way!
Get off my bridge!
In all his wisdom, even Picard often made critical mistakes of his own. He let emotions control his actions and put himself or others in harm’s way. One memorable scene is from the movie First Contact, in which the crew travels back in time followed by the Borg. The Borg are a special type of race in the Star Trek universe, which assimilate other races using surgical implants and incorporate them into their hive mind collective. On the verge of defeat, Picard loses his temper, ignores his crew’s suggestions and is confronted by one of the 21st century civilians on his ship. She reminds him that emotion and anger are clouding judgement and he bursts out at her:
NO! NOOOOOOOOO!!! I will not sacrifice the Enterprise. We’ve made too many compromises already, too many retreats. They invade our space, and we fall back. They assimilate entire worlds, and we fall back. Not again! The line must be drawn here! This far, no further! And I will make them PAY for what they’ve done!
You can see that he is attempting to use authority and power to dominate her, but right after the exchange, he starts reflecting on what he had just done:
And he piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the rage and hate felt by his whole race. If his chest had been a cannon he would have shot his heart upon it.
He is quoting the book Moby Dick. Ahab, who was crippled by a whale at a younger age spends his life hunting her down, which doesn’t turn out that well for him. Picard reflects on his choices and changes his mind. He doesn’t have to live with the burden of sticking to his mistake. Here is the entire scene:
This scene illustrates why I grew to love Picard and the character so much. He isn’t presented as a perfect hero, who does everything perfectly.
He makes mistakes, even big ones, and owns up to them. He transcends them. And when others doubt themselves, he believes in them and pushes them to do their best.
I still have a lot to learn.