(for the wondrous partner of Mr Hooting Yard, who was apparently ‘agog’ to hear this…)
Remaining Calm in Very Stressful Situations
In many ways, this entire series is likely to be a love letter to Mr Spock, one of my favourite fictional heroes. I’m almost entirely overrun by emotion (the troublesome element of Water, magickally speaking). The wondrous Mr Spock is almost entirely in charge of his half-human emotions (and therefore demonstrates the delicious cool element of Air, that I aspire to for more balance). It’s also likely to have a few good words to say about Captain Kirk, who whilst impulsive and far too in love with his own manly chest, is engaged and focussed enough to be useful (here is the element of Fire, by the way).
In order to gain anything useful from Star Trek, in terms of life lessons, you have to be prepared to view it, as I do, as life – just taking place in space, with lovely vivid colours. Its all situations you encounter here, sat at your desk in the office; or at home with the baby or the unemployment, or at school with the cliques and despairing alienation (I presume that wasn’t just me?). Just with lots more movement and active drama. Real life generally contains much less active drama and understandable plot, when viewed in small scale, than books and TV. Which is why we often feel so bored/depressed/restless – wondering what it’s all about/for. The big picture of each life gets lost. The lovely thing about well-written characters in drama, is that they usually manage to seem much more ‘finished’ or developed than we generally feel in life. Even if in torment or painful flux – they have the calming affect of history: they can be studied, you can rewind them, re-read them, try and understand their reactions. Learn something.
This post is just a little taster. I’m quite certain this theme of Remaining Calm in Very Stressful Situations alone could encompass many episodes, and I could find many quotes and examples. But I haven’t got the time I need to sit about watching Star Trek like I used to. I have re-started the marathon (Stanley had started it without me, and I had to just pick up where he’d gotten to, while feeding Fluffhead dinner the other night), and already have, in just one episode, found a couple of good things.
Ok. So. The Corbomite Manoever [sic] (Series 1). There they all are, in space as usual, exploring. They are suddenly menaced by a colourful spinning cubey thing. This holds them suspended, for over 18 hours. One of the crewmen, Navigator Bailey, gets rather overexcited when reporting data about this to Spock, who tells him it’s ‘quite unnecessary to raise your voice’. Bailey is a nice story-telling device, as he consistently demonstrates too much Water and Fire throughout the episode (emotion and passion, in a dodgy combination). He defends himself to Spock, saying he was only having ‘a human thing called adrenaline’, that it wasn’t interfering with his ability to do his job, and goodness no, he wasn’t showing fear! With the dead-pan delivery I worship, Spock simply replies, ‘that sounds most inconvenient. Have you considered having it removed?’
This raises the valid point that in modern life, adrenaline very often serves little purpose. There we are, at home, at work, wherever. Getting stressed and fidgety about something, feeling attacked or insulted in a meeting, say, and there are those reactions: sweating, heart racing, that nasty kick sensation in the solar plexus, shaking. In a meeting is not the best time for a Fight or Flight stress reaction. It’s inappropriate; it gets in the way of optimum functioning, instead of helping.
It doesn’t help them in the cubey situation either. They try flight: it just keeps up with them. So they try fighting. They do succeed in destroying the cube, but this only leaves unanswered questions: what on earth was it? Why was it holding them? Who was in charge of it? They go on further, and soon meet another odd object: a spherical golden beady thing (with enhanced blu-ray effects), or a group of three golden shiny spheres (in original effects). The golden thing is annoyed at the destruction of its cubey ‘warning buoy’, and they manage to annoy it further, at which point it tells them to talk with their ‘deities’ as they have 10 minutes left to live before being destroyed as primitive and aggressive peoples of hostile intent. This message is heard all over the ship.
With admirable calm, Kirk speaks to the crew over the intercom:
‘…you know the greatest danger facing us is ourselves. An irrational fear of the unknown. There is no such thing as the unknown. Only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood. In most cases we have found that intelligence capable of a civilisation, is capable of understanding peaceful gestures […and] eventually understanding our motives.’
Tell me we don’t all have something to learn from that speech? I certainly do. I’m not talking about world politics (yet). I’m talking about day to day life. Even if you think it doesn’t apply to your boss at work…even if he really is an idiot and you can’t understand how he even ties his shoelaces without serious brain-jam every morning; he really is an alien for all you have in common with him in terms of values and world-view…this speech still holds.
Try and step back, listen to Spock and try to curb that adrenaline. Breathe deeply (visualize the offending person in a nappy or naked, or somehow undignified – I never remember to try this, but am assured its helpful in keeping the mind two steps back from the immediacy of stressful stimuli). And think about how you don’t understand the person, and they don’t understand you. That’s what the fear/anger usually is. It’s that misunderstood/attacked feeling. Gain the upper ground by knowing it for that, knowing yourself. That will enable you to disengage a bit, enough so that you speak again, more carefully, and try and be understood. Or listen more carefully, to try to understand. Before having an argument. (If you’re objecting to my self-help tone here, be aware I’m giving myself these instructions as much as anyone else!)
That isn’t the end of the episode by any means; there’s a whole other lesson for me, in there. Its more about what Kirk does under stress; the calm leadership he demonstrates, and his tactics. But this is enough for one post.
So! TO BE CONTINUED! Next lesson: What To Do When Outmatched (by spherical golden beady objects or by extension, even regular people)…
(PS – And for the person who asked me what I listen to while I type these: today it was Mozart’s Mass in C Minor, and Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. So I was suitably becalmed.)
 In case you wonder, I would say the good doctor Bones is the element of Water in the show – always debating with Spock and Kirk, with curled fist and eyebrow intensity, defending some human dimension to things: empathy, fellow feeling. I’d say Scotty was element Earth, being practical in the Engine Room, in between insisting the ship ‘can’t take it’…which it always does in the end: an extension of him, always sturdy, adaptable, there. If a little turgid at times. In my opinion of course – there’s loads of different ways to look at all the characters. This is just how I see them.
 Demonstrated beautifully in the very funny scene in the Big Bang Theory episode ‘The Pirate Solution’ (Series 3) where Raj and Sheldon start to work on a theoretical physics problem. This of course, involves them thinking about it. They just stand there, quite still, staring at a whiteboard with formulae on, frowning. To an excellently funny montage-y soundtrack of ‘Eye of the Tiger’. You must watch that episode; they run that gag twice and I loved it both times. Great when TV and film effectively mock their own conventions.