When I was little I didn't have any heroes. There weren't any famous figures that I looked up to, or that I used as a guide for right and goodness. Except for my mom. I happen to have a mother with a strong moral and ethical compass, but not all children are so lucky. They look around themselves to determine how people, adults especially, should be acting. With the prevalence of TV shows, movies, books, and comic books in the lives of children, I believe that creators have a responsibility to make characters that can be idolized. In the absence of strong adults in person, they deserve strong adults in media.
Personally, when encountering complicated and confusing scenarios in my teenage years I would ask myself how my mom would feel about my decisions. Would she be proud? Would she think I did the right thing? Or would she be disappointed in my lack of judgment, or in my treatment of others? Who is a good role model for children?
Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise, of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame, is just such a person.
In starting my Star Trek: The Next Generation journey I have come to one absolute conclusion: Captain Picard is an excellent role model. He is confident, compassionate, and respectful. He exhibits patience and understanding, and expects to see those same qualities in others. He encourages everyone around him to be their best selves possible, and he is never above seeking the advice of trusted friends and colleagues.
Let's talk about some of Picard's finest moments! And, uh, spoilers, I guess? Oh, and I'm currently half-way through season 6, so this list doesn't include any of season 7 or the movies!
1. Convincing Wesley Crusher to admit his Starfleet squad tried the Kolvoord Starburst (S05E19)
In this tension filled episode, Picard and the Enterprise crew are at Starfleet Academy and discover that Wesley Crusher is acting oddly after the death of a classmate. It is revealed that Wesley and his squad members tried an extremely dangerous, and banned, maneuver called the Kolvoord Starburst which resulted in the death of a squad member. Wesley and the rest of his group have decided to lie about the circumstances of their friend's death to avoid punishment for attempting the taboo flying formation. Captain Picard corners Wesley and reminds him of his duties to Startfleet and what it means to be an officer aboard a starship. He also threatens to reveal the secret if Wesley doesn't do so himself.
This was a touching and uncomfortable encounter between the two characters. Picard expects goodness and honesty from the people that he cares about, and everyone else, and doesn't fear backlash or people disliking him in his more blunt moments. Ultimately Wesley confesses the truth, and is better for it. Consequently he is made to re-do his final year at Starfleet, but it's a small price to pay for causing the death of a classmate, and in confronting his mistakes he learns a hard lesson about what fellow Starfleet members will expect from him in the future.
2. His horror at accidentally killing the new, unknown species (S04E16)
The crew of the Enterprise encounters a strange new being floating in space, and Picard's fascination at the discovery of a brand new life form is written in the wonder and excitement on his face. When the creature begins to attack the Enterprise, he orders a low power beam to be shot at it as a form of non-fatal defense. Unfortunately, this kills the creature on impact. The camera cuts back to Picard, who now looks absolutely distraught at the accidental destruction.
His value and appreciation for life of all kinds knows no bounds. Even after being attacked he wished only to defend, and not to harm in response. In his immense respect for alien beings he is constantly putting himself and his entire crew in danger, because there is no telling how the unknown will respond. And yet, he continues to give them the benefit of doubt, not only because their mission is to seek out new life, but because the lives aboard the Enterprise are no more important than those of undiscovered creatures.
3. Fighting for Data's right to autonomy and preventing his being disassembled (S02E09)
A member of the cybernetics department of Starfleet visits the Enterprise, intent on learning more about Data's positronic brain. He wishes to dismantle Data in an effort to learn about his construction, and to create more androids like him. Data refuses, opting to resign from Starfleet rather than disobey a mission command, but is then told that he is not sentient and is therefore mechanic property of Starfleet and has no choice. Picard steps in and demands an official hearing to decide whether or not Data has autonomy and a choice, and through a series of events is forced to defend Data against Commander Riker, who has been commanded to stand in as representative for the opposition.
We see an amazing display of compassion and rights activist qualities from Picard, who is adamant that Data deserves all the considerations that every other member of Starfleet is granted. He has to give his all against Riker, his Number One, and not be angry (or take personally) when Riker throws in convincing, and damning, arguments to prove that Data is not sentient. Picard values equality and justice, and didn't hesitate to protect Data from what he viewed as a gross violation of rights, no matter the cost or who he had to fight against.
4. Asking the time traveling human for help (S05E09)
When Captain Picard and the rest of the crew meet a time traveling historian from the 26th century, he encounters an ethical dilemma; the Enterprise's current mission is in assisting a planet from an accidental Ice Age, and he needs advice. There is one option to save all of the planet's inhabitants, but one slight miscalculation could end up killing everyone instead. Picard pleads with the time traveler to reveal the outcome to help decide on what they should do. The time traveler refuses to discuss any information about the event, saying he's not allowed to alter the time continuum. Normally Picard takes the Prime Directive very seriously, but he also believes that certain circumstances allow for rule breaking measures. He views this event as one of those times, and flatly asks for help in making a decision.
Picard has such great respect for rules, and decorum, and following them to a T. He also knows the value of breaking them, though. Not every situation is a one-size-fits-all, and he's not so prideful as to refuse a chance to get help when the opportunity is presented. Breaking the rules from time to time opens up new possibilities, and can lead to new information and exciting discoveries, but should be done only after careful considerations of the potential repercussions.
5. Stopping Lal from being handed over to Starfleet (S03E16)
Lieutenant Commander Data creates an offspring that he names Lal, who is android like him, but is capable of advancing speech like a human, and can feel emotions. Picard reports the event to Starfleet command since it is technically a new life form, being not quite like Data. Admiral Haftel arrives on the Enterprise and demands that Lal be handed over for further investigation, since Starfleet has much to learn yet about Data's advanced android status. Data moves to comply, seeing as it was a direct order, but Picard steps in and orders Data to stand down and to not give Lal to Haftel. Admiral Haftel reminds Captain Picard that he is at risk of losing his ship and his rank for interfering with a direct order.
Captain Picard is able to repeatedly pair logic with emotion in his decisions. He knows that it is wrong for Lal to be given up, because she is, for all intents and purposes, Data's child, and no other member of Starfleet would be commanded to hand over their child for study. He also knows that Data is defined as sentient and has his own rights, giving Picard greater traction for his argument. Even though he risks losing his rank and his ship, he cannot stand by and allow injustice to take place on the Enterprise, or to one of his crew members.
6. Crying to his brother about his Borg encounter (S04E02)
In this follow-up to a two parter about Captain Picard being kidnapped and assimilated by the Borg, Picard visits his home in France and spends some time with his brother and his brother's family. While there, continually insisting that he's fine, he gets into a fight with his brother that culminates in Picard finally collapsing and allowing the trauma of his experience to show. He cries out about not being strong enough, and how vulnerable and powerless he felt in being assimilated and stripped of his identity, and eventually finds comfort from his brother Robert.
In what is undeniably an emotionally charged, heart wrenching moment, we see that no one, not even the great Captain Jean-Luc Picard, is above feeling the tug of despair, sadness, and vulnerability. The audience sees that even the strongest of people can feel pain, and can feel like they aren't good enough, and also that it is healthy to open up to those that love and care for us.
7. Admitting to Q that he was wrong about being prepared (S02E16)
Q appears to play with the crew of the Enterprise once again, and is angered by Picard not listening when Q insists that there are dangers in the universe that Starfleet isn't prepared for. Picard insists that they are ready, prepared, and able for whatever they come across. Q, as a lesson, propels them farther than they've ever been, to an unexplored area of space where they immediately encounter the Borg. It is quickly proven to the Enterprise that they are no match for the Borg, and will be destroyed in very short order. Picard angrily calls for Q's return, admitting arrogance and pride, and agreeing that they aren't ready for what lies beyond the Federation's reaches.
Even though Q went too far in this instance, seeing as his charade cost the Enterprise 18 lives and caused the Borg to begin pursuit across the universe, he did have a point. Picard was arrogant, and wrong in his assertion that they were prepared. After being returned to their original coordinates in space, Picard reflects on how far the Federation has yet to advance. It was an extreme situation, but Picard was able to admit that he was wrong, one of the most difficult things for people to do. What's more, the experience stayed and humbled him. He didn't return to arrogance once he and his ship were back to safety.
8. Defending Tarses when he is accused of being a traitor because of his Romulan heritage (S04E21)
When a member of Starfleet Command comes to the Enterprise to investigate possible sabotage after an explosion occurs in engineering, a crew member named Simon Tarses is accused of being in cahoots with a Klingon officer who was smuggling information to Romulans via amino acid sequences. Tarses insists that he had nothing to do with the explosion, but is further targeted and put on trial because of his Romulan heritage, which he lied about on his Starfleet application instead indicating that his appearance was from a Vulcan background. Captain Picard tries to put an end to the investigations, asserting confidence in Tarses, and is instead put on trial and accused of also working with the Romulans.
From the beginning of the investigations, Data and Geordie are certain that the explosion was a legitimate malfunction, and not external forces. Picard has trust in all of his crew members, and is confident that further trials and interviews are unnecessary. His trust and confidence in everyone who is aboard the Enterprise is wonderful. He has no reason to distrust two such respected officers, and he works hard to surround himself in that company. Everyone would benefit from friends and colleagues who embodied the traits that they highly value, as they do tend to rub off and influence us. While being questioned by Starfleet Command, he remains calm and points out that Tarses is being accused simply because of his heritage, demonstrating a profound dislike for prejudice and racism.
9. Paying the hotel owner before leaving 1800s San Francisco (S06E01)
While Picard and company work to return to the 24th century and the Enterprise, meanwhile simultaneously stopping an alien race from feeding off of sick inhabitants in 1800s San Francisco, they take up residence at a hotel. Through the episode we repeatedly see Picard talking with the hotel owner, a kind but agitated woman who is insisting that she be paid for their stay. Picard insists that they'll have money for her soon and manages to continually shoo her away while not raising suspicions. At the end of the episode, before departing for the 24th century, Picard acquires money and tells his 19th century companions (who happened to be Guinan and Samuel Clemens) to pay the woman for their stay.
The entire ending scene is a total whirlwind, and Picard has a lot to think about. He's facing a dodgy time rift, and an alien race slowly destroying Earth's inhabitants. Guinan is injured, and nearly everyone around him is in peril. And yet! He finds the time and means to make sure the owner was paid properly for his stay at her hotel. I was completely floored by this move, because it further demonstrates Picard's sense of justice, fairness, and ethics. He was never going to see the woman again, didn't need to trouble himself with her life at all, yet he knew that losing out on her hard-earned, and deserved, payment would have meant hardship for her and her family. He is able to see past his own needs, and make sure those around him are cared for.
10. Tasha Yar's eulogy (S01E23)
After the sudden and sad death of Tasha Yar, the Enterprise holds a touching funeral that is headed by Data. Tasha had pre-recorded messages for all of the senior crew members for use in the event of her death while on duty. In her address to Captain Picard, she states that of all people, she most wanted him to be proud of her.
In watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Picard has become another person who I think of when making decisions. What would Picard think? Would he approve? Would this make him proud? I agree completely with Tasha's sentiments, because Picard is a man to admire, to want to emulate, and certainly someone whose approval one would desire.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree that Picard is a great role model? What are your favorite Picard moments? What are your favorite lessons from Star Trek?!
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