I have many personal heroes; unfortunately most of them live in the realms of books, movies, and television. It’s no secret I was a huge Star Trek fan growing up and Jean-Luc Picard taught me so much about integrity and standing up for the truth even when the consequences could be devastating.
I remember watching Star Trek: The Next Generation’s fifth season episode “The First Duty” and being disappointed at how long it took Wesley to admit he and his team lied about the circumstances surrounding a fellow cadet’s death. For those who aren’t familiar with this episode, Cadet Wesley Crusher and his academy flight squadron were engaging in a flight maneuver strictly banned by the institution. If they successfully pulled off this maneuver they would be lauded as heroes by their fellow trainees. Unfortunately for Wesley and his squadron, during practice something went wrong and his friend was killed as a result. His team tried to cover it up but as the saying goes, the truth will out. Picard invites Wesley to his ready room where he explains “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth!”
As I’ve grown and garnered more life experience, I can sympathize with young Cadet Crusher more than I did as a teenager. While I think the death of his friend should have been more than sufficient circumstances to compel him to tell the truth from the start, I can understand how remaining loyal to his squadron commander and his friends, lying to protect them as it were, could create a difficult choice. In the end Wesley does the right thing to honor his friend who died. He tells the truth and willingly faces the consequences. He owned his mistake.
While I can’t say this episode alone taught me this lesson, it certainly reinforced concepts I had learned growing up. There have been times I’ve made mistakes or taken a shortcut for the sake of expediency. Most of the time those situations worked out but on the occasion they didn’t, I didn’t lie. I owned my failures and faced the consequences. I’ve learned that when you own up to your mistakes, admit wrong doing and make the effort to correct them, the disappointment by others is balanced by a level of respect for making it right.
Lately I’ve seen an unfortunate trend in American culture when a wrong is committed. The offending individual is quick to place blame elsewhere, often at the feet of the person they just victimized! Our instinct is one of self-preservation and when someone is caught doing something wrong, whether embarrassed, entitled, or ignorant the offender generally refused to own up.
You say something you shouldn’t and it hurts someone. Do you deny you said it? Downplay and dismiss the context in which it was said? Tell the person you hurt they are too sensitive and to get over it? Or do you own it and apologize? Would it really be so bad to just admit you made a mistake and apologize for it?
What happens to a society when the people chosen to lead said society are incapable of owning their mistakes? When our leaders are unwilling and unable to say “I’m sorry,” can we really expect the rest of the country to do the right thing when they’ve done something wrong? Why is admitting you’ve made a mistake perceived as weakness? We all make mistakes; every single one of us is flawed and prone to error. A quick apology can defuse a situation but denying wrong doing only exacerbates the issue turning a minor offense into a major ordeal.
I am grateful for Picard and other fictional heroes who have taught me so well. I’ll stick with them instead of the lessons many current real life leaders would have me learn instead.