There is a two-part episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “Chain of Command.” During this episode, among other plot lines is an interaction between Gul Madred, a Cardassian interrogator, and Captain Picard who has been captured and is a prisoner. The interaction between the two is a battle of wills between one who seemingly has all the power (Gul Madred) and one who seemingly has no power (Captain Picard). Madred tortures Picard, trying to get him to admit there are five lights shining down upon him, when in actuality, there are only four. Each time Picard correctly states that there are four lights, he received a brutal shock from a chip which has been implanted in his chest.
Near the end of the episode, Madred informs Picard that the Enterprise has been destroyed, in an attempt to crush Picard’s defiance. He then offers the choice of living in relative comfort or be tortured for the rest of his life. To live in comfort, Picard simply has to say there are five lights. As Picard is thinking about this, another Cardassian enters the room, informs Madred that Picard is to be returned to the Enterprise immediately, destroying Madred’s ruse. As he is being escorted out by the guards, Captain Picards looks at Gul Madred and defiantly states, “THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!”
Usually, when I think about this story, I put myself in the heroic role of Captain Picard, standing up against what is wrong by simply stating the truth. Today, I felt like Gul Madred in an interaction with my son.
I was feeding my son breakfast (torture, I know) and he wasn’t eating as much as I thought he should. He wanted other food and I wasn’t willing to give him anything else. We were engaged in a battle of wills and the further it went on, the more determined I was that it not be me that blinked. My son, being a two year old, did everything in his power to tell me that he was done and didn’t want to eat any more. I was determined that he eat just one more bite of eggs. I wasn’t going to let him up from that chair until he ate that one bite. I was going to make sure that he knew who was in charge. We went back and forth like this for a while, each of us getting more steadfast in our positions and neither wanting to budge. His crying went from “show” crying to real crying and I realized what was going on in my head.
I realized my mistake, got him out of his chair and apologized. As I was bringing him to my chest to give him a hug, he looked up at me with a look on his face, which translated into English, simply said, “THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!” My son, you are correct, there were only four lights and I was wrong for trying to get you to say otherwise.
This interaction just shot my morning to hell. Later on playing with him in his room, I was in tears thinking about what had happened. Whether or not he remembers this experience later in life, I know that I won’t forget it. It’s a lesson to me that no matter how obstinant I think my son, whether now when he’s two or decades from now, is being, I can’t fall into the trap of being obstinant right back. When you’re the one with the power, compassion is much better than obstinence. I will remember to glace up and count the lights so I know how many there are.