Watching ST: Voyager helps me quiet my brain when it’s fractious. There are a lot of reasons, but mainly it’s the worldview the show espoused, which was one of inclusivity and acceptance, compassion instead of judgment, and the acknowledgment that adhering to the Prime Directive – Starfleet’s vow of non-interference in the development of other cultures – is often a real bitch.
Sounds like Zen to me.
My current favorite episode for getting my brain to simmer down is season two’s “Innocence,” in which Tuvok* is stranded on an uninhabited moon when the shuttle he’s piloting crashes. His companion, who despite having a gold uniform and a name is clearly a redshirt, dies in literally the first two minutes of the episode. (But hey, at least he had a few lines!)
Tuvok quickly learns he’s not alone. He’s joined by three children who tell him their ship also crashed on the moon, and that the adults with them were killed. They’re terrified, not just of being castaways, but of a monster called the “morrok” which they say lives on the moon, and they don’t want to let Tuvok out of their sight.
There’s more to the plot, but that’s the relevant bit.
This episode is extra soothing because of the way Tuvok interacts with the children. He doesn’t tell them comforting lies, or offer any of the platitudes adults so often do when confronted with the unreasoning fears of children, and he doesn’t even yell when they misbehave – though he does raise his voice slightly a few times, proving that even Vulcans find children exasperating – he simply talks to them, logically and patiently.
Here are some examples:
Elani: I don’t want to stay here anymore. I don’t like it here.
Tuvok: Your displeasure doesn’t change our situation, nor does it bring us any closer to a solution.
Tressa: You don’t have to be so mean about it.
Tuvok: It isn’t my intention to be mean. I only wish to provide you with a realistic assessment. Vulcan parents never shield their children from the truth. Doing so would only hinder their ability to cope with difficult situations.
Corin: I can’t help it. I’m scared.
Tuvok: I believe you can help it.
Elani: Do you live your whole life without feeling anything?
Tuvok: More accurately, we strive to control our feelings.
Tressa: You don’t get scared? Ever?
Corin: Even when your shuttle crashed?
Tuvok: That is correct.
Corin: But what if there was this big, hairy tardeth coming after you—
Tuvok: [With a touch of impatience] The circumstances are irrelevant.
The reason this all chills me out is that psychologically, we’re conditioned to respond to authority, some of us more than others. As I’ve mentioned, my mom was more drill sergeant than mother, and this made me both suspicious and afraid of authority but also in awe of it, and it took me a lot of reading and therapy to understand that there’s still a scared little girl inside me and it’s not too late to give her the kind of parenting I wish I’d had. (I’m not blaming my mom. She was a complicated, amazing woman who did the best she knew how. It wasn’t her fault I needed things from her she couldn’t give me, any more than it was my fault for needing those things. We were simply wired differently.)
When I hear Tuvok talking to Tress, Elani, and Corin, I hear the voice of parental authority, but instead of screaming furiously at me, it’s speaking calmly, logically, and respectfully. It’s reassuring, but in a way that resonates more with me than my mother’s “I Am Your God and I Will Protect You” approach. Tuvok’s words reach right down into my psyche where that small, terrified version of me huddles in the darkness, feeling overwhelmed and frightened and stressed by the world.
Conditioned mind berates us so constantly with messages that we’re not good enough, or smart enough, or thin enough, or brave enough, or whatever enough, that we’re usually not even aware it’s happening. It tells us everyone has things figured out but us, that everyone around us is living better lives than we are, making better choices than we are, and it does this so brilliantly we believe it without question.
Tuvok’s words to the children remind me that conditioning can be overcome. When I’m afraid or worried I tend to think “I can’t help it,” but the fact is I can help it. It takes work and patience, but by practicing awareness I can retrain my brain.
Because what we imagine is always worse than the reality, and we’re far more capable than we think.
*If any non-Trekkies are reading this, though I can’t imagine why they would be, Tuvok is Voyager’s Vulcan tactical officer, and a long-time friend of Captain Janeway. He’s played with great class by Tim Russ.