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'Star Trek: The Next Generation" as a Lesson in Vulnerability

To visit a different world or receive another to ours, our shield must be down.

Key points

  • We cannot be shielded to protect ourselves and open to the outside world at the same time.
  • We can feel when others are protected by persona—we may admire them but we can't connect to them.
  • We delude ourselves into thinking that by impressing others they will like us when what we really need is a willingness to be vulnerable.
Rojer/Wikimedia Commons
The USS Enterprise
Source: Rojer/Wikimedia Commons

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, the USS Enterprise could employ a shield that would deflect photon torpedoes. It was great for dangerous encounters with hostile forces, and besides the bridge rocking and rolling as it absorbed the enemy blasts, there would usually be no damage to the crew or inside of the ship. The shield did its job.

But there was one interesting twist: In order for people to use the transporter to come into the ship, or in order for people to be able to transport out of the ship, the shield had to come down. It was impossible to receive new life forms from the outside or to leave the inside to meet with others off the ship without taking down the shield.

You may be able to see where I’m going with this. As so often happens with good science fiction, we can learn a lesson from this about our own lives: We cannot meet another person unless we take down our shield. What happened aboard the USS Enterprise is a perfect analog to what happens with us in our everyday worlds. We cannot be impacted by others or impact others so long as we stay behind our protective shields.

We all know this when we interact with someone who is heavily defended. They may seem perfectly nice, well-mannered, and even interesting or admirable in some way. But if this person is shielded, taking shelter behind an external persona (“I’ve got it all together,” or “I’m so successful,” or “I’m so smart”), we will perhaps feel envious or perhaps admiring or respectful. But we won’t actually feel the person, and we probably won’t feel any natural liking for them. Their shields are up, so we can’t connect to them.

I think we all like to delude ourselves that the reverse is not necessarily true. That is, we may take shelter behind those same kinds of shields (or others) but tell ourselves that no one will really notice. We may try to impress others as a way to stay safe in the world, not letting ourselves be vulnerable lest some photon torpedo come our way.

Ask yourself this question: Do you want to impress people, or do you want them to like you, to want to be with you, to feel comfortable with you? Impressing others does not go with the other things. You can impress people, or you can connect to them. I don’t think you can do both.

So next time you’re in a space with people and you feel safe, take down your shields and let yourself be vulnerable. It’s the only way to be visited by another and the only way to leave the safety of your ship and visit another’s world. Just ask the crew of the USS Enterprise.

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