Lessons from Mr. Spock

March 2, 2015
For fans like me, the death of Leonard Nimoy last Friday – a man recognized the world over as half-human, half-Vulcan science office Spock on the Star Trek television series and later in the movies – represents the passing of significant cultural icon.

For fans like me, the death of Leonard Nimoy last Friday – a man recognized the world over as half-human, half-Vulcan science office Spock on the Star Trek television series and later in the movies – represents the passing of a significant childhood cultural icon.

For even though Spock is a fictional character, and one not even from planet Earth, he illuminated some of the more interesting contractions in human life – specifically the conflict between “logic” and “emotion.”

In my view, then, there are several lessons the transportation industry can glean from Nimoy’s portrayal of Spock over the last several decades.

Science can be cool. Spock combined a dispassionate super-smart brain with subtle don’t-mess-with-me brawn; something that inspired more than a few kids to become scientists when they grew up. (Sadly, though, without the Vulcan nerve pinch ability.)

“Leonard Nimoy was an inspiration to multiple generations of engineers, scientists, astronauts, and other space explorers,” noted none other than NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a statement. “As Mr. Spock, he made science and technology important to the story, while never failing to show, by example, that it is the people around us who matter most.”

Yet logic isn’t always the answer. Increasingly these days, we look to science and especially data to guide us in answering a whole host of questions. In transportation, such data relates to things like vehicle uptime, on-time delivery metrics, cost per mile information, etc.

However, ultimate success in transportation relates to a lot of things that cannot be defined “logically,” especially when it comes to trucking.

That’s because the humans piloting big rigs, trains, planes, and ships all run on emotion – and often emotion guides them to do highly “illogical” things, such as stopping on the side of a highway to help someone in trouble.

One-size-fits-all rules usually don’t work. Perhaps one of the most glaring – and purposeful – contradictions Federation starship captains dealt with centered on the “Prime Directive.” In essence, that rule forbids Federation personnel from interfering in other civilizations, especially from imposing their values and ideals upon said societies.  

Yet as David Marinaccio noted in his fun book All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Watching Star Trek, that’s the rule everyone kept breaking even though “logic” dictated it should be kept sacrosanct.

Why? Because nothing is ever clear-cut in the real world – especially when lives are at stake.

You need to laugh at yourself. For many years, Nimoy rejected being identified so closely to the Mr. Spock character – going so far as to title his first autobiography I Am Not Spock back in 1975. Yet he thankfully had a change of heart, not only embracing his alter-ego Spock – entitling his second autobiography I Am Spock in 1995 – but also more than willing to poke fun at himself in the process, too.

[A good example is this hilarious car commercial Nimoy filmed with the “new” Spock, Zachary Quinto.]

FYI that tune about “Bilbo Baggins” Nimoy is humming while driving is a song he actually wrote and sang back in the day, as the clip below can attest.

In the end, Nimoy found time to share a few last words of wisdom, too; words that it’s not hard to imagine Spock’s human side appreciating:

“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP [Live long and prosper].”

Here, sadly, endeth the lesson.

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