The first STAR TREK television series in more than a decade, STAR TREK: DISCOVERY, premiered on September 24. To celebrate, we here at ComicsVerse are bringing you all things TREK all month long. Today, a writer reflects on how STAR TREK changed his life for the better.


Ever since I was 5 years old, I have understood (at least in some way) that I am different from other people. It wasn’t until a couple years later when I started seeing a therapist that I was given a name for that difference. I have Tourette’s Syndrome. In addition, I have ADHD, anxiety, depression, and low grade OCD which are common co-occurring conditions. Now that has meant a lot of things for me throughout my life. Obviously, I’ve had trouble fitting in with my peers. That led to teasing and bullying by kids and misunderstandings with teachers.

Throughout K-12, I was given special accommodations. These included using a laptop in class (while all other kids just had notebooks and pencils), extra time on quizzes, and other such aids. This caused a further rift between me and my fellow students. I really didn’t understand or feel this until early in high school. It was at that time I realized I didn’t seem to have any real friends. I only had people who thought I was funny. I had trouble distinguishing kids who just hung out with me “for lolz” from those who truly appreciated me for me.

It was then that I discovered STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT and science fiction fandom. Watching the movie and subsequently all the other movies and TV shows, I was better able to understand myself. It helped me come to terms with my neurological disabilities and what I really wanted with my life. The themes of tolerance, self-improvement, and the general utopian outlook on life appealed to me. It really took me until the past year to fully understand how STAR TREK has affected me. Now, I have come to truly believe the TV shows and movies have influenced my life for the better.

Exploration and Cooperation

Starfleet was formed in the 22nd century with the express goal of not only proving Humans were united in peace, but also to expand the knowledge of the species. With the formation of the United Federation of Planets in 2161, the organization’s scope of exploration was expanded to encompass the four founding species (Humans, Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellarites) and all future members. The idea of expanding the horizons of one’s knowledge appeals to me. It may sound arrogant, but I am proud to say I am a very smart person. Therefore seeing Humans overcoming their violent tendencies and focusing on broadening their knowledge is something that resonated and continues to resonate with me.

Star Trek
If these vastly different species can coexist, then what excuse do 21st century Humans have for prejudice?

In addition, the cooperation between different species and cultures was very inspiring to me. It’s amazing that two species who less than a century before had been at war (the Vulcans and Andorians) could come together to peacefully coexist. That then begs the question: why can’t us Humans in the real world get along better? The mutual cooperation and understanding between the various members of the Federation helped me. It aided in growing my own capacity to “put myself in someone else’s shoes.”

This was especially helpful with my parents. I love my parents and we have an extremely close relationship. However there were times that I misbehaved and really got on their nerves. Many times this was due to my neurological issues. After watching STAR TREK, I was (even if subconsciously) encouraged to empathize more with my parents’ point of view. This helped greatly in my relationship with my progenitors and helped immensely in repairing my dealings with them.

Redemption in STAR TREK

Most STAR TREK fans know the Borg, the cybernetic and aggressive species hell bent on assimilating all life and eliminating individuality. In many ways the writer of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION seem to have created the Borg to be a dark mirror for the Federation. After all, the Borg do not judge individuals by the species. Every member of the Collective is taken care of. No Borg child goes hungry. There is full employment. Education (what there is of it) is free and abundant. There is harmony in the Borg Collective. No one ever fights or disagrees (ok, Unimatrix Zero is the exception, but that’s a whole other story). Sounds pretty similar to another government, doesn’t it? That’s right, an argument can be made that the Borg are a perverted version of the Federation.

READ: Want more STAR TREK adventures featuring the Borg? Then check out this review of STAR TREK: BOLDLY GO VOL. 1!

Star Trek
From Borg drone to integral crew member.

Knowing all that, Seven of Nine from STAR TREK: VOYAGER is a truly fascinating character. The crew of Voyager are initially wary of a recently liberated Borg drone. Remember Wolf-359 and all that. Overcoming preconceived notions however is something Starfleet officers  excel at. Captain Janeway leads the way in reintroducing Seven to her humanity. Along the way, she makes new friends among the crew of Voyager. Remember, this also wasn’t the first time Kathryn Janeway had to deal with integrating new faces to her crew. After they were stranded in the Delta Quadrant, Chakotay, B’ellana Torres, and other former Maquis members had to be integrated into their ragtag crew. There are parallels with the situation of the former Maquis and Seven of Nine.

Forgiveness and Self-Improvement

Forgiveness is a cornerstone of STAR TREK. It espouses a philosophy that no matter your past, you can redeem yourself and improve your situation. Tom Paris is a former prisoner. Chakotay and the other Maquis were rebelling against the Federation. In addition, of course, is the former Borg Seven of Nine. This theme of forgiveness and redemption inspired me to own up to my own mistakes more readily. It helped me improve as a person and recognize that my faults and mistakes can be fixed.

READ: Here is a great piece on how STAR TREK was influenced by fiction and has influenced fiction.

A similar theme that goes along with forgiveness is self-improvement. A central theme, especially for STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, is the idea of improvement of the individual. The whole idea of a post scarcity economy obviates the primary driving force for most people in our world: the acquisition of wealth. With very few exceptions, resources are endless. There is no need to get a job unless you want to. The central ethos of the Federation’s society is self-improvement and improvement of the UFP as a whole. This theme speaks to me deeply. As a person with Tourette’s and related disorders, self-reflection and self-improvement is a must. Seeing humans united with dozens of other species only 300 years in the future gives me hope not just for myself but for all my fellow humans.

Acceptance of Diversity and The “Other”

Star Trek
STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE was fabulous at exploring tolerance of difference.

The message with probably the most relevance today is STAR TREK’s remarkable history of promoting acceptance of the “other.” From its very founding, the Federation was predicated on cultural pluralism and acceptance. The Vulcan philosophy of IDIC is emblematic of this. IDIC stands for “infinite diversity in infinite combinations.” For a species that embraces logic above all else, that is pretty beautiful. IDIC is one big celebration of diversity and difference.

STAR TREK has always excelled at promoting this idea. THE ORIGINAL SERIES’ crew was multi-ethnic and meant to represent all the cultures of Earth coming together. TNG’s portrayal of Data, an artificial lifeform, as a valid and valuable individual is still quite revolutionary. So is the inclusion of Worf, a Klingon. With VOYAGER and DEEP SPACE NINE, the crews are more diverse than ever.

The later two shows especially deal with the complexities of living and working with those of vastly different backgrounds and beliefs. DS9 is set primarily on a space station filled with species such as Bajorans, Ferengi, Cardassians, Trill, Klingons, and a Changeling. VOYAGER revolves around a ship with just as many different individuals. Maquis rebels, a liberated Borg drone, a self-aware and mostly free hologram, a woman captain, a half-Klingon half-Human chief engineer, an African-American actor playing a Vulcan, and a Talaxian are all stuck together on one ship. The fact that both these TV shows portray such a varied species cast in relative harmony really drives home the philosophy that mutual understanding breeds cooperation and ultimately friendship and love.

Mental and Neurological Disabilities

One of the less thought about characters when talking about STAR TREK is Lieutenant Reginald “Reg” Barclay. The systems diagnostic engineer, portrayed by Dwight Schultz, only appeared in 11 episodes (5 in TNG and in 6 in VOY) and one movie (STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT). However, looking back Reg is one of the most significant characters ever created for STAR TREK. He is the only character who gives a positive portrayal (or really any) of a lasting neurological/mental disability. Mostly things such as mental breakdowns and other sensitive topics are part of the temporary plot of a show. Some alien virus makes a crewmember delusional, an alien consciousness takes over another crew member, etc. Lieutenant Barclay, on the other hand, is shown to have ongoing issues with his mental health.

Star Trek
Lieutenant Reginald Barclay

Like me, Reg Barclay is incredibly smart and talented but sometimes has trouble coming out of his shell. He has trouble in social situations, can at times have difficulty expressing himself, and worries about people excessively. I believe he might be on the Autism spectrum, specifically Asperger Syndrome. Although he has some friends such as Data and Geordi La Forge, Reg has trouble asking to be included in social activities outside of work. One entire episode even deals with his addiction to the holodeck and his partial break from reality. However, with the help of Counselor Troi (sidenote: a counselor on starships is a great idea!) and his friends, Reg eventually recovers.

Reg Succeeds!

Later on Reg has issues dealing with communications with the USS Voyager and that brings out some more of his issues. He almost derails his Starfleet career. However, with more help from his therapist and friend Deanna Troi, Barclay overcomes his disabilities. He not only recovers, but is instrumental in establishing regular communications with the stranded starship Voyager. As a person who also suffers from neurological disabilities and has dealt with similar mental breakdowns, seeing a character such as Reg successfully proving his worth is amazing.

READ: This piece details more examples of positive portrayals of mental health!

He proves that making friends with incredible people such as Geordi La Forge and Data is possible. It shows that if you are open to people who may seem “different,” you will make lasting and meaningful friendships. La Forge and Data stick with Reg because they know he is kind, loyal, hard working, and just a great person. I hope to have friends half as accommodating as the aforementioned engineers.

Conclusion

STAR TREK has profoundly influenced my life in both small and large ways. The various messages and characters that populate the Trek canon have made my life more meaningful and have helped me grow as a person. It helped me discover my geeky side and helped convince me that it’s cool to be a nerd. After all, if Spock and Picard have embraced their geekiness, then why shouldn’t I? Also, seeing the cooperation of various species, especially former enemies, inspired me to be more open minded in my relations.

Most importantly, Reg Barclay’s success in improving his lot in life and the general theme of betterment of the self speaks to me greatly. STAR TREK is not just a series of TV shows and movies. It promotes a beneficial and helpful philosophy. If today’s Humans embraced Gene Roddenberry’s and subsequent writers’ messages in TREK, the future will be a much brighter time than the present.

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