Star Trek, William Shatner and a Humane World for All


As I described in my TEDx talk, “The World Becomes What You Teach,” I asked William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk on the original Star Trek series, to kiss me — in front of 5,000 people at a Star Trek convention when I was 15 years old. I’m that kind of fan. The kind who, in high school, worked at a Star Trek store in Manhattan; at Star Trek conventions; and who got the front row, center seat on opening night when Leonard Nimoy, who played Mr. Spock, was starring on Broadway in Equus (and who then pretended to be with People Magazine, even though I still had braces on my teeth, so that I could go backstage and meet him — which I did).

In my TEDx talk, I ponder the Star Trek phenomenon. There’s no easy explanation for the enduring power of a TV show from the 60s that got cancelled after three years; for the millions of fans; for the continued success of Star Trek in its many permutations; for any of it. But for me, the power of Star Trek lies in its profound hopefulness and its vision of an essentially peaceful and healthy human society in which we’ve become explorers without being conquerors, in which we treat other species with respect and care and where our curiosity is endlessly fulfilled with adventure and discovery and an aversion to harm. Star Trek makes me optimistic about our future. If we can envision such a world, surely we can create it.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to finally meet William Shatner, who was hosting a fundraising event for the wonderful Dancing Star Foundation and its critical work in saving this planet’s remaining biological hotspots and supporting humane education. Meeting Bill Shatner was a dream come true for me, and I thanked him for what he’d given me and how he’d changed my life. He said he hoped I was happy with my life, and I assured him I was. I wish that I’d had more time to tell him why his work as an actor, playing the role of Captain Kirk, was so pivotal for me. And so I’ll share it here.

Stories often define the goals we have and the paths we take. This is one of the reasons why fables, fiction, theater, film and TV are so enduring and so popular. A good story can be instructive, profound, uplifting, moving and inspiring. Stories bind us with communal visions of what might be. Those that are dystopian provide truths about where we might be heading if we succumb to greed, desire for power over others, violence and fear. Those stories like Star Trek’s provide a vision for where we could head instead.

Part of Star Trek’s endurance lies in the fact that it is not utopian. There is nothing in the Star Trek future (except perhaps for some scientifically unlikely technologies and the absurdity of a galaxy populated by English-speaking humanoids) that is inherently implausible. Humans are still humans in the Star Trek world. We still have our darker impulses, but we have evolved morally to live together in peace. When we have enemies (like the Klingons), we work toward eventually becoming friends. Some forces are arrayed against life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and must be fought (e.g., the Borg), but even in fighting the Borg, we struggle with moral challenges. The prime directive in the show demands that we do not interfere with others, reminding us of the medical oath, “first, do no harm,” but this directive sometimes means we don’t come to the aid of others, a moral dilemma. There is nothing Pollyanna-ish about the Star Trek future.

Star Trek remains for me a vision of what could be if we learn to harness our critical and creative thinking capacities, our collaborative skills, our discipline, and our deepest hopes for peace, health, kindness and joy. But for the Star Trek future to move from fiction to some sort of reality, we will need an educated populace with the ability to work together innovatively and wisely to transform unjust, unsustainable and inhumane systems that still pervade our world.

I discovered Star Trek because a back injury at 13 necessitated that I give up gymnastics, my passion at the time. At home instead of at practice in the late afternoon, I chanced upon an episode. It changed my life. It made me study advanced physics and astronomy in high school; it made me want to create a Star Trek future; it led me (albeit in a circuitous fashion) toward my life’s work as a humane educator.

I know that we can create a world in which we all – humans and nonhumans – are able to live long and prosper. The question is, “will we?” The answer begins with each of us: with you and me and the children we raise. And so, may we raise a generation to be solutionaries, willing and able to work together to turn an inspired and inspiring story into reality and create a viable, thriving future. May we begin by transforming the root system – education –  that will lead us toward such a future.



Zoe Weil is the president of the Institute for Humane Education, which offers the only graduate programs in comprehensive humane education, as well as online courses, workshops, and dynamic resources. She is the author of Nautilus silver medal winner Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life; Above All, Be Kind; The Power and Promise of Humane Education, and Moonbeam gold medal winner Claude and Medea, about middle school students who become activists. She has given a TEDx talk on humane education and blogs. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @ZoeWeil.


Related Stories:

Let’s Graduate a Generation of Solutionaries

Curiosity and Care: the Core Necessity for Learning

Mike Daisey’s Lies Must Not Make Us Apathetic or Cynical


Image courtesy of JD Hancock via Creative Commons.


Victoria S.
Victoria S5 years ago

I've always loved Star Trek, it is a wonderful vision for the future and I do hope we can make it reality one day

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L5 years ago

I love reading Zoe's articles and her concept on education. I too love Star Trek and for all the reasons she stated. I truly believe we can have a future protrayed in Star Trek. I hope so.

John Mansky
John Mansky5 years ago

Long live the memory's of "Star Trek"...

Nimue Pendragon

Been a big Star Trek fan for many years. I was fortunate to meet Marina Sirtis and Walter Koenig when they came to Melbourne (Australia) for a convention years ago. Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future has inspired many people to try to create that future, by changing their lives, by inventing things, by making the world a better place. Thanks for sharing, Zoe.

Nellie P.
Nellie P5 years ago

I have always loved the Star Trek shows, and always will.

Mike and Janis B.
Janis B5 years ago

Have always enjoyed the various permutation of star trek, and the way they dealt with current problems. But our favourite Scifi has always been Doctor Who who was several years before Star Trek.

Sharon R.
Sharon Re5 years ago

I don't recognize this article as fitting the original Star Trek series at all. As I remember it, they were constantly butting into other civilizations and acting like everyone should fit their way of thinking. Moreover, the guys wore pants while the gals wore short, sexy skirts. It was very male chauvinistic. I happen to like the spin-off series better, Next Generation and the one after that with the female captain. Those still smack of American culture being foisted on alien races, but there is more of an effort to understand the other races and work with them (as opposed to always fighting them). But there are a lot of times when they judge others in what are pretty cruel ways. One that comes to mind is on Next Gen when a Romulan General defects in an effort to stop a war he believes is about to happen. Capt Picard judges him a failure for falling into a Romulan Party trap. Next thing the General commits suicide. Then all are say nice things about him. Talk about hypocritical.... There are other series like that. Who supports Deanna's mother when she tries to change a culture's tradition (with the man she has fallen in love with) that says he must be euthanized at age 60? That man had the knowledge to work on a climate change problem that was endangering their planet, but he went to be sacrificed on the altar of convenience, a lose-lose situation. I could go on and on....

Albert Roman
Albert Roman5 years ago

Star Trek has been my inspiration all my life - I was never into sports or popular or anything like that - Star Trek was always there and provided a universe where I could belong. What it is goes beyond words and beyond the actors who play the roles. I met William Shatner last year in Nashville and I told him what an inspiration he was and had been to me- he didn't really care so I took my autographed item and walked off. I understood that Shatner may have played Kirk but he isn't Kirk. What he created took the best of him and then continue to evolve past him. Everything that seems implausible may change as science expands - what if someday "subspace" is discovered? I would be one of the first to give up driving if the transporter becomes a reality.

Blessed Be the soul of Gene Roddenberry who brought us this realm of hope and may we as human beings, with all our diversity and similarities, nurture the wisdom to "Make it so"..

Cristy Murray
Cristy Murray5 years ago

Lovely article. I consider myself a Trekkie and long for the future of which Ms. Weil speaks. I also was drawn to Star Trek because of the humane aspects of that future. The comment about harnessing our critical and creative thinking reinforces my personal beliefs that religion is the biggest obstacle in reaching these goals. Organized religion, IMO, discourages critical thinking. The current state of the so called religious right is filled with hatred and fear. Terribly sad really.

Anders S.
Anders S5 years ago

I wrote a long comment to Vasu M, but it seems it was sucked into the Bajoran wormhole... :-(