The recent passing of Leonard Nimoy brings a profound sense of loss not only for the man himself, but also for the beloved half-human, half-vulcan he portrayed for so many years in television and film. Mr. Spock is truly an American icon, curiously evoking so much love and emotion for a character who was supposedly the pinnacle of detached rationality. His role as the cool and collected Chief Science Officer of the Starship Enterprise provides the perfect foil for an often emotional Captain Kirk, and in many ways Mr. Spock is able to teach us more about what it means to be human than any of his fully human colleagues. Perhaps his half-vulcan DNA gives him just enough “otherness” to highlight for us the best of his other half. The following are some of the lessons we’ve learned from Mr. Spock, and some things he’s taught us about ourselves.
Live with curiosity and without judgment
One of the most famous lines in all of Star Trek lore is simply Mr. Spock’s often heard exclamation, “Fascinating.” It could be heard any time he encountered something new, different or unexpected, and it had a joyful tone to it that gave away his vulcan (or was it human?) excitement over new discovery. It taught us what it means to be truly curious, and how much value we can find in our differences when we approach them with interest instead of judgment. I hope I can stay ahead of my own biases and remain as innocently curious about everything as Mr. Spock was able to do.
Use technology, but don’t become its slave
“Computers make excellent and efficient servants, but I have no wish to serve under them.” There seemed to be a symbiotic relationship between man and technology in the highly advanced era Star Trek found itself within. Yet, Mr. Spock would have the wisdom to know their role, rather than submitting to their rule. He was never overly dependent on the technology he used, rather relying on his experience and wits to inform his decision making. The takeaway here is for us to stop searching for the meaning of everything on Google, and spend some time engaging our minds through critical thinking, learning a new skill or just plain tinkering.
At first glance Mr. Spock comes across as a stoic and unchangeable being. Keep paying attention though and you will find his persistent move towards change and growth. In fact, he was the one who told us that “Change is the essential process of all existence.” You can see this as he embraces new and difficult missions, roles and friendships. He never seemed to back down from a difficult situation, but instead embraced it as the process by which he could develop himself.
The Power of friendship
Mr. Spock had the great (mis)fortune of being placed under Captain Kirk’s command. Never were there two such dissimilar people. And yet, through thick and thin, foolish endeavor and brash arrogance, he kept at it with Kirk. Eventually, this led to a change in them both – and what most would consider for the good. Kirk became a little more even-tempered and Spock, well, in the words of Kirk, “Of my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most… human.” I would venture to say that Spock’s humanity was brought out through the toil of a difficult and rewarding friendship with James.
God is with you, or “live long and prosper”
The final lesson from Mr. Spock comes from his universally recognized hand gesture, the Vulcan Salute. It was only after Nimoy’s death that I learned the gesture used to exhort others to “live long and prosper” was actually a symbol with roots in Nimoy’s Jewish upbringing. In an interview with Christa Whitney, Nimoy said he first saw the symbol as a boy when his father took him to an Orthodox synagogue. At the ending benediction, the congregants averted their eyes in reverence as the priests voiced a loud chant symbolizing the “Shekinah,” or the settling of the divine presence of God upon the people. Despite his father’s admonition to hide his eyes, Nimoy’s curiosity got the best of him and he peeked, glancing the priests who made the now famous symbol with both hands. This symbol is in the shape of the Hebrew letter “shin,” the first letter of Shekinah, representing the presence of God coming to live among the congregation as they depart. So now every time I see that symbol, I will think of Leonard Nimoy, the curious boy-Spock peeking to get a glimpse of the presence of God. What once was just a nerdy sci-fi greeting will stand as a reminder that that the Shekinah presence of God has come to be with me. Now that adds new meaning to “live long and prosper,” doesn’t it?
-By Matt Thames and Branden Henry
*We have to qualify ourselves as non-experts on all things Star Trek, and we ask true Trekkies to take it easy on us.