Like many “Trekkers”, I was shocked and saddened to hear that Leonard Nimoy – the man famous for playing Spock – had died. At first glance, my reaction and those of other fans may appear silly. After all, I didn’t know him personally, nor ever met him, so why should an actor of a fictional TV and movie character have any importance?
In my case, watching Star Trek as a kid in the eighties introduced me to this pointy-eared, blue shirt alien that embodied self-control, rationality and reason. Every other main character in the show was usually emotional, vulnerable, or in need of guidance. Not Spock. He was a man unto himself. The absolute power of his intellect and adherence to logic meant nothing affected his focus or his moral compass. He took orders because that was his duty not because of uncertainty. It was irrelevant if the rest of the crew was losing the plot or if the mission and their very lives were surely going to hell in a hand-basket. He was rational, resolute, centred, moral, compassionate, humble and unquestioningly ready to sacrifice his life for the greater good. A great role model and hero to a kid surrounded by uncertainty.
Unbeknownst to most, Spock is half-human, half-Vulcan, meaning he felt more than most of his species. Vulcans weren’t emotionless, they just valued and practiced the Stoic ideals of clear rationality over tumultuous emotions. No pride, no ego. Just duty, to what is right and to what is necessary.
Spock made me love reason, and reason saved my life.
What’s so good about rationality and reason anyway? Isn’t heart and passion more important? Isn’t that what gets things done? Well, yes and no. Passion without reason is reckless and can be destructive. Reason without passion can be overly cautious and gets you nowhere. We need both at different intensities, at various times, but in my experience reason should guide passion and passion should fuel reason. As P.K. learned from his boxing mentor in one of my favourite novels, The Power of One: “First with the head, then with the heart.”
Excellent reasoning skills are imperative to living intelligently. Analytical skills like logic and critical thinking can be learned, and with applied practice become an instinctual part of us that kicks in automatically in our everyday life when required. These skills aren’t difficult to learn, but conscious presence is necessary to apply them. You have to be in the present moment to determine the best course of action. But as with any habit, current or desired, it takes repetition for it to become a natural part of our behaviour.¹
Trust me when I say I’m deeply emotional, but despite my inner impulse to react first and question later, over time and with practice and age, rationality has become my best friend. In fact, it’s improved and saved my life on more than a few occasions, but none more so than with my current illness of ALS. Despite every fibre of my being screaming with panic at the impending prognosis, I stay rational to dictate my next course of action. And this one example alone, has proven to me through the emotionally longest, mentally toughest, most personally intense battle I’ve ever faced, that good reasoning skills are imperative for a good, happy life.
Every day I awaken I know it’s never going to get better; indeed my body and this disease will progressively get worse. Every day I rationalise what I can do, how I can do it, and use my emotional intensity to make that happen. I owe my sanity to all the things I’ve done to improve my rationality, and it all started by being inspired with that stoic Vulcan: Mr Spock. This is perhaps why Leonard Nimoy’s death has affected me so. Like him, I’ll keep trying to live long and prosper.
1. It takes time to create a habit because you literally have to build and cement new neurological connections in your brain. Every time you repeat something, those connections become stronger. Eventually, those neurological pathways take precedence over the old ones related to the old habits. If you keep this in mind, you may find it easier to create a new habit. All you have to do is give it time and repetition.