The Prime Directive

starship_enterprise_2I’m not a Trekkie, but I did watch a number of the early episodes of “Star Trek,” and have since appreciated the show’s forward thinking treatment of a lot of sociological  issues.

So there’s the Enterprise, boldly going all over the place, beyond the reach of Star Fleet’s whiz bang communication gadgets. Never fear, though, because our friends have guidance from Star Fleet available at all times in the form of Star Fleet Directives, and even–somebody was thinking ahead–a Prime Directive, also known as General Order No. 1 or the Non-interference Directive.

better than kirkIn other words, Captain Kirk (I’m more of a Picard fan myself) and his merry band were not to interfere with the development of the civilizations they contacted. The interesting notion to me is that there was one, tippy-top, tie-breaker rule: Do not mess with the LOCALS.

Clans have mottoes, the US Constitution has a Supremacy Clause, and most faith traditions have a short list of do’s and don’t somewhere in their catechism. Often a romance novel hero or heroine has latched onto what they hope will be the last big rule they’ll ever have to memorize, and that rule ends up outliving its usefulness.

captive_295w-274x450Gilly, from The Captive, was certain that violence did nothing to solve problems. Not one, blessed, blasted, perishing thing… until her loved ones were threatened. Oopsie!

Hannah, in The MacGregor’s Lady had organized her life around protecting her loves ones and thought that’s the only path she could honorably walk. Then she fell in love with Asher, and saw that selfless sacrifice can veer into enabling. Oopsie!

Valentine Windham had nothing in common with his stubborn, close-minded, self-righteous father. Not the smallest, coincidental iota of common ground for the shortest instant, you hear me? Because he didn’t. Ever…. Oopsie!

trutful gentle fearlessThese characters have to switch that rule they put in the top slot. Gilly will never be a fan of deadly force, but her prime directive becomes “Don’t mess with the people I love or you’ll have ME to deal with.” Hannah learns to do unto herself as she’d do unto others. Valentine… well, he learns to see with his love rather than with his fears, even when looking in the mirror.

They don’t give up on the notion of a prime direction, they just trade up (after 363 pages of struggle and having it darn near cost them True Love) when the one they have no longer works. Maybe this is human nature, to want one be kind alwaysoverarching rule to fall back on.

I have such a rule: Be kind and tell the truth. That right there is enough of a challenge to keep me busy day in and day out.

Do you have a prime directive? Have you ever had to turn it in for a newer model? Who handed you this rule and how well did they live by it?

To one commenter, a $50 Amex gift card.

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42 comments on “The Prime Directive

  1. I attended Catholic schools through the 12th grade, so a lot of what I see as right or wrong was formed during those years. This was the 50s and early 60s. But back then, even the Public schools stressed the golden rule: DO UNTO OTHER AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO UNTO YOU. It was certainly something that my own mother stressed to us at home. So I guess that would be my prime directive.

    Now later in the mid 60s and early 70s, I came to realize things were not as clear cut or black and white as I was raised to believe. It caused a real crisis of faith in my youth.

    But the golden rule has stayed true through it all. It was one of the reasons that I believed fighting for civil rights and against unjust wars was the right thing to do.

    • To me, the fundamental gold in the golden rule is that even though people might not believe as we do, look like we do, speak like we do, they DO hurt as we do and love as we do. The human heart is the same, and when we allow ourselves to dehumanize others, we’re at risk for behaving inhumanly ourselves.

  2. When I was a girl, my grandpa told me, “Keep your nose clean.” Translated, that just meant “Behave yourself,” which was pretty standard.

    When I graduated from high school, my favorite teacher told me, “Keep the faith.” In my own translation, that meant “Never give up, hold on to hope.” Again, pretty good advice, though I found many years later a value in letting go of one faith to make room for new ideas and new ways of thinking and living.

    But the prime directive that resonates in my head most often — even or perhaps most especially when I don’t want to hear it — is, quite simply, “Love.” Noun or verb, state of being or command, it really all boils down to that. Love.

  3. Hmm, that’s interesting. I hadn’t really thought about that before.
    I think I got from my dad: be tough and soldier on.
    Haven’t had to replace it yet.

    • I had to UN-learn that one, or maybe morph it. I was so tough… and for what? In my case, pretending I could suck it up and soldier on was a kind of arrogance. I started making really stupid choices because all that soldiering on hurt badly after a while, and then I wasn’t soldiering anywhere.

      But that was my path. Yours will be different, and your dad’s words might be exactly the beacon you’ve needed to stay true to a healthy path.

  4. My first thought was the Golden Rule as Mary T said. Treating others as you would want to be treated or “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” and when you really think about it is does come down to what Jennifer said “Love.” Just love. As your picture above states you never know what battles another person is dealing with and sometimes that little bit of kindness, grace or love can make all the difference.
    Although, sometimes this is much easier said than done, especially when dealing with the people in your life that you do love. Have you ever noticed how easily it is to not be nice to your spouse or other family members? I know I am guilty of being rather mean and unloving and most of the time it is directed at the person I made vows to love.

    • When I got married, a zillion years ago, my spouse and I wrote our own votes, and we agreed: You cannot promise to love somebody forever. Yes, you can treat them lovingly, but you can’t tell your heart what to feel, only your self what to do.

      But that marriage didn’t last, so maybe our reasoning was flawed, and should have taken vows to love each other?


  5. My Grandmother taught me “Things are never as bad as you think they are no matter how bad it is for you there is always someone who is worse off” So, I try to remember that when I feel down. At least I can get up and move around sometimes it takes hubby’s help but I can(And the help of my electric wheelchair) but I can still do it. Someone else may not be able to get out of bed or may not even have a bed to get out of so I try to remember that every day.

  6. I learned a few life lessons from my Dad.

    We had a lot of great conversations over coffee at the kitchen table. While I was in college, I remember explaining that I was going to drop out of a class and take an extra one the next semester. Dad asked a few questions and we talked about the class.

    His reply was “Gormans are not quitters. Figure it out and solve the problem.”

    These sentances have stayed with me for many years. When I am overwhelmed at home or at work, I break down the problem by making a list. This helps me problem-solve. I have passed this advice along to my daughter (in a nicer tone of voice) and it’s nice to see her use it.

    His other piece of advice was MYOB….mind your own business. I use this tidbit daily. 🙂

    My Dad lived by these rules. He overcame many difficulties during his life with his positive attitude and sense of humor and he was a great support to my brother, sister and myself.

  7. I always had a ‘prime directive’ of do what is right -regardless of the consequences. It was a long time before I realized that MY “right” was not necessarily the “ultimate God given right”. This left a whole pile of ambiguity.

    My current directive is to measure a situation against my bottom line personal ethics before deciding how to act. It seems to work pretty well, as long as I take the moment to do it, and do it honestly. Many times it is difficult the keep my mouth shut when that is the prudent course.

    • You said a mouthful. I’ve handled one case after another where I advocated zealously for that I KNEW was the best outcome. Sometimes I’ve won, sometimes I’ve lost, but I’ve OFTEN been wrong. The outcome I thought was my client’s best, best shot at success ended up setting them up to fail spectacularly. The result I knew was certain disaster and judge’s dumbest decision ever was the first step on the client’s road to success.

  8. My golden rule is to treat others as I would want to be treated. To try to put myself in their shoes and see their side of whatever the problem is before I react. It doesn’t always work, but it’s something I strive for.

    • That ability to see things from somebody else’s perspective is the stuff of world peace, Barbara. Sometimes, you simply can’t figure out what motivates somebody to act as they do, but that you’re willing to try to see the matter from another perspective means you’re at least working at the problem in good faith. Sometimes that alone motivates the other party to do likewise, and THEN you can make some progress.

  9. My grandmother used to say…don’t do something that you will regret later and stay out of trouble. I followed that advice to this day

    • Yeah, but.
      How do you know what you’ll regret? I think I’ll regret it if I can’t spend a year in Scotland… but there’s simply no way to know that impact that will have my finances, my family relationships, my writing… I’d want to have a long talk with Grandma about her regrets,and I bet it would an interesting conversation.

  10. I really like this quote attributed to Mark Twain:

    “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” Mark Twain

    Along with trying NOT to gossip,trying to always do right, it’s my unofficial code of behavior. Not always so easy to accomplish but I feel better about myself when I try!

    • What you call gossiping, I can call tri-angling, where A and B go off and have nice long, not very kind discussion about C. The usual dynamic there is A and B have some agenda with each other, and old C is just a means to an end. The agenda is often, “I’m not very confident of my relationship with you, so I’ll align myself with you in the business of criticizing or griping about C.”

      Once I realized why I was gossiping, I did a lot less of it.

  11. I was raised being told to live by the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” My parents were generally good about following it to my knowledge.

    As I’ve gotten older I’ve added the “There are always (at least) 2 sides to a story” motto and I try really hard to hear both sides before making any necessary judgments.

    I’ve tried to teach my kids to follow both rules. Or at least use them as guidlines.

  12. Like so many of us, I also learned the Golden Rule as a child and tried to follow it. Somewhere in the past, (can’t recall who said it), I heard a variation to the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as they would like you to do unto them.” Just because I might like someone to give me a surprise party, or make an announcement to a large group of people about something I’ve done, it doesn’t mean that another person would. Instead, they might prefer a quiet dinner, for example, or a simple thank you card. It works for me.

    • My dad would adore your version of the Golden Rule. He’s a quiet, shy man who likes to circle in his little orbit without too many deviations. My mom is more of an extrovert, and she’s forever keeping track of who called whom on their birthday.

      Dad just wants peace and quiet, no big hoopla, no endless parade of duty calls.

      But you neglect to call Dad on his birthday at the risk of Mom reading you the Riot Act for the next five years. We call Dad, and tell him to act like he’s THRILLED hear from us, so nobody gets in trouble with Mom. We’re only half joking.

  13. I can’t remember who told me to ‘share the good, suffer the difficult,endure the impossible…pass on the judgement’ but it serves to this day …sort of a paying it forward thing .. Makes life worth the journey 🙂

  14. Hmm… I am a woman of honesty and integrity. That can get me in trouble. I have been taking a History class this semester. I disagreed with the professor on a particular point. I was respectful, but I did let him no that I disagreed and why. He brought up the same point three times in three different class sessions. I held my ground. I think he was annoyed, but I think he was also impressed that I held my ground.

    • I’m not as confrontational as I used to be. The last time I had an issue with a prof–he was ridiculing romance, which might have been all in good fun, except he hadn’t put down any other form of genre fiction–I went up to him after class and called him on it. That was enough to ensure he didn’t do it again.

      Now I’m wondering if I should have called him on it right in the middle of the class? What was my objective? Shaming people in public seldom has a good result, but he was publicly misbehaving, and I didn’t call him on it in public.

  15. I’ve made my own rules which I learned the hard way. Never say never is one of my big ones. Stay open minded. Don’t judge others (I still have to work on this one). Be empathetic and tolerant. The Golden Rule is a good one too lol.

    • Never say never is an excellent addition to the list, and I’ve learned that one the hard way too. I SWORE my weight would NEVER be higher than X number… and that was thirty pounds ago.


  16. I’ve considered this question and committed my answer to print almost 30 years ago and in that time, I’ve definitely noticed that my thoughts have undergone some refinement. Tradition at my high school was expound upon your life’s ambition alongside your senior picture in the high school annual. Anyone with any sort of competitive streak in the verbal arenas strove to be profound and witty, of course. I really did put some thought into it.

    While this question was weighted toward an ambition, high school graduation is such a major stepping stone, that the question, at that point, for me, was basically to define my Prime Directive.

    My uncles’ admiration of my dad’s lifelong willingness to make drastic life changes rather than to be locked on to one path for life was a strong consideration, along with other things mentioned earlier in the blog; the Golden Rule, not being a quitter, staying tough, trying not to be judgmental, loyalty, integrity and choosing my battles wisely were all strong considerations. As I considered all of the things to consider….I came to the conclusion that my best plan was to just make sure I actually do ‘consider’ before I act.

    I used a car metaphor involving a hot pink ‘57 Chevy with some humorous tie-ins to some personality traits, but ended up basically simplifying my ambition to “Never looking back and seeing missed opportunities”, years later I would definitely “trade-up” (in keeping with Grace’s question and my car metaphor) to include doing my best to avoid wrong decisions, but keeping my focus on the windshield – moving forward- and not dwelling on the missed opportunities, and regrets that will inevitably appear in the rear view mirror.

    While I wouldn’t want to admit to not “Boldly going where no man has gone before….” and coming up with my own rules, I have to concede that my Prime Directive really does have a lot in common with my dad’s and I do think he’s lived well by it. Today is his 79th birthday and he’s still holding to it.

    • Happy birthday, Dad!

      Somewhere along the way, a friend told me he always waited 24 hours before implementing a major decision, especially a major money decision. He might for certain, definitely 100 percent sure, what he wanted to do, but then wake up the next day with a different perspective.

      It’s been a useful addition to my coping skills. Sleep in it, give a little time, look before you leap… All ways of saying what put more eloquently. THINK about what you’re doing.

  17. “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”

    I found this on a poster during my freshman year of college (1975!) and have loved it and used it ever since. I’ve had some amazing experiences and jobs because I was willing to sail out of my safe harbor.

    Best Wishes,

  18. I’ve had those one for over half my life: “Make choices that allow you to make more choices.”

    If I choose to kill someone and go to jail, I’ve severely limited my ability to make future choices. On a less grand scale, if I choose to ignore friends or their needs, I will likely not have them around when I need them. And so on…

    Thankfully, for the most part, when I fail to stick to this principle, I can back track and make it up. But I’d really like to consistently make choices that open doors to other choices instead of closing doors and barring windows…

    • WHAT an interesting perspective. Very thought provoking, but I can certainly get behind the idea that options are a form of power and mental health. When I don’t get to choose, when I’m no longer the boss of me, I’m usually not very happy.

  19. My old grannie had several sayings I try to live by. The best one I think was “If you can’t do someone a good turn, don’t do them a bad one.” But most of the time you can find a good turn to do to a person.

  20. What a lovely topic to ponder.

    My mother recently returned to me an eighth grade writing assignment, “I believe… ” My “prime directives” haven’t changed, but the motivation certainly has. As several respondents have noted, love, divine love, (however you happen to measure divinity) is the best reason for any thought or action.

    I will be adding Teresa’s quote to my library. There are two that were pasted in my closet for years:

    “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, take what comes.”


    “I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”