Life Is Not About "Staying Safe"

One of my favorite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation is "Tapestry." If you haven't yet seen it, stop here, go track it down somewhere, and watch it first as the rest of this essay will be clearer if you do (and spoilers may be ahead). It's the sort of episode that makes worthwhile the other 80-90% of episodes that are just made to compile 150-200 episodes for later syndication. (I'm actually a fan of the British approach, where series such as Fawlty Towers were produced in limited numbers, which made each episode that much better. The six episodes of Police Squad also are an excellent example of "less is more.")

In "Tapestry," Captain Picard dies on the operating table because his artificial heart is damaged after he is ambushed. He goes to the "afterlife," where he is met by his nemesis Q, who gives him a chance to go back in time and save his life by correcting the error in judgment that cost him his original heart. Picard, who has regretted much about the life he led when he was young and doesn't want to spend eternity with Q, quickly agrees to go back, and, after resolving to play it safe this time around, he successfully corrects the "error" that led to his early demise. After that, Picard is suddenly brought back to the present, but he finds that things are quite different than they were.

Not the captain of the Enterprise any longer, Picard finds himself serving as a junior officer that no one on the ship even knows, and he is responsible for menial, routine assignments. He chafes at this turn of events and calls for an explanation from Q. Q tears into the humbled Picard and explains that the Picard who didn't lose his heart was essentially unfit to be a leader. From the script:

"That Picard never had a brush with death... never came face to face with his own mortality... never realized how fragile life is... how important each moment can be... so his life never came into focus. He drifted through much of his career, with no plan or agenda... going from one assignment to the next, never seizing the opportunities that presented themselves... He didn't lead the Away Team on Milika Three to save that ambassador... he didn't take charge of the Stargazer's bridge when its Captain was killed... and no one ever offered him a command. He learned to play it safe. And he never, ever got noticed by anyone."

Folks, life is not about "staying safe." Anyone who has a child knows that. In times past, for a woman to die in childbirth was not uncommon. Children have even been known to kill their own parents. Suppose no one ever had children because, well-- you could die! Everything that matters in life involves risk. People who don't take risks are already dead and all that remains is a lifeless body that just wanders around aimlessly and pointlessly. The gift of life is precious and every second matters. A man who takes risks and lives life to the full and dies young will be remembered. People who "stay safe" don't get bridges or highways or even streets named after them. Their riskless, safe lives are quickly forgotten after they take their last breath. We can quickly see too that government leaders who call the population to cowardice are unfit to lead, just as the "safe" Picard was unfit to lead. These sorts will be long forgotten when the threat of disease has subsided; history remembers those who stir the people of a nation to rise above themselves and overcome their limitations with bold, brave, courageous acts.

After the dressing down by Q, Picard begs to go back in time again and "unfix" what he thought was an error, and of course, it being a Hollywood production, they push the "reset" button and Picard somehow survives, but now he realizes that staying safe is not all life is about. Think about that when the media and government leaders demand that everyone cower in fear and hide under the covers. Think about what it would mean if we remain a nation of cowards. Think about that the next time someone says, "stay safe."

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