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Bones, Spock, and Captain Kirk

Any one of us knows the joy and pain of relationships. Of course this statement fits only if we are emotionally engaged with them. It is the "stuff" that makes relationships dynamic and vibrant. It is also the stuff that makes them painful and difficult.

What does it mean to be emotionally engaged and how do you tell if you are? Why is it so important that we be emotionally engaged or attached to our children or our spouse or our friends? What is the big deal about emotions anyway? Well, it turns out that emotion is central to how our brain works, especially with memory. In fact, everything we experience in life is being assessed by our amygdala, the so called center of the emotional brain, and it processes information before we even know it. Do you remember the last time you became emotional? Think about a recent emotional experience like becoming angry or sad. You were "into" the emotion before you had time to think. The emotion is just there, it is not something you make happen like when you figure something out with your "thinking brain" and put the plan into action.

Some individuals find it very difficult or even "alien" to experience intense emotions or they are very restricted in their emotional expression. It might be that the only emotion they experience is anger or fear. It is like their emotional brain is not as active or sensitive to emotional experience. If you have ever seen Star Trek episodes then you know of Spock and how "human emotions" are alien to him and his decisions are made solely by logic. Or, if you know someone who has experienced a stroke their emotional expression is different. For some stroke victims there is no emotion associated with anything. They are extremely flat and unresponsive and very difficult to connect with. We need emotional expression to connect with one another.

Another character in Star Trek is the contrast to Spock; it is Bones, the passionate and emotional physician who is constantly frustrated with Spock's cold logic. Bones is emotional about practically everything especially when it involves relationships. He is always accusing Spock of not "caring" because he believes Spock's decisions and actions are unaffected by what happens to others. And of course Bones' actions are almost always effected by how it affects others and he places a premium in his decision making on what it will mean to someone else. Sometimes this clouds his judgment.

And then there is Captain Kirk. He is the balance point to both Spock and Bones. Where they are metaphorical extremes, he is the metaphorical center point, making decisions considerate of both emotion and logic. Captain Kirk is the model of how our brain is supposed to work. He is passionate and emotionally engaged with his crew and friends but able to make the "tough" decisions when necessary. He is able to engage both his "emotional brain" and his "thinking brain". One does not dominate the other and his decisions are better, more likely to be the right one because he is using his whole brain to make the call.

Which character do you identify with? Consider your important, significant relationships and assess if you are more of a Spock or a Bones. Maybe Captain Kirk describes you. More likely, we find that we can be all three depending on the circumstance. Try and observe in what situations you are more likely to be emotionally engaged and calmly considering options like Captain Kirk. What circumstance brings out the "Bones" in you where emotional expression dominates? When are you primarily considering the facts regardless of its affect on others?

Work on becoming more aware of what circumstances and contexts bring out which Star Trek character. It is in those circumstances where a Bones or Spock dominates that we have growing to do. When Captain Kirk shows up, we have learned that we can both emotionally connect and thoughtfully consider options to make sound judgments.

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