Have you ever been in a situation where you and another person simply don’t understand each other? I’m not talking about a mere disagreement of a difference of perspective, but a deep misunderstanding because of communication?
That is the situation Picard finds himself in during “Darmok”, though perhaps the challenge facing him as tenfold. Picard and crew engage a species called the Tamarians. Previous Federation representatives had attempted to form a treaty with the Tamarians, but all prior attempts failed.
The Enterprise doesn’t appear to have much better luck.
The Tamarians speak with words that the Enterprise crew understand, but it is incomprehensible due to the structure of the words. Picard is seemingly abducted and beamed to a planet surface with the Tamarian captain, Dathon. Dathon has two knives, and repeats a few simple phrases.
Picard first interprets this action as hostile, as if Dathon wants Picard to fight him. Only a frigid night where Dathon helps Picard light a fire does Picard begin to interpret real intentions. Yet there is still a significant language barrier.
A creature begins attacking the two captains. Dathon is injured. Yet through it, there is still a language gap. Picard soon begins to realize that the words Dathon utters are a metaphor, just of a story that Picard does not understand. The entire situation, Picard realizes, is like the tale of Gilgamesh. The two soon begin to speak the same language, understanding each other. And Picard realizes that they are living out a scenario like Dathon keeps repeating. It’s the Tamarian way of forging new relationships.
“Darmok” is quintessential Star Trek. At its core, it speaks to much of the human condition. It’s one we acutely face right now. We cannot understand each other, our experiences, despite shared languages, because we are unable to do the work. Picard could have easily decided to quit, to incorrectly interpret Dathon’s intentions. But when “confronted”, he threw down the knife in an act of friendship. Picard won’t settle for the easy route. Who he is as a diplomat, an explorer, a leader, a person implores him to explore all facets of connection and relationship.
There’s not a single aspect of Picard’s character that we need to learn from more. Our broader society has lost the ability to truly listen, to hear what is being communicated rather than what may soothe our own desires. And from that, we communicate ineffectively, often not understanding each other even when a common goal is at stake. Let’s look at Picard here, and regroup. Stakes are high here on Earth like they are in the final frontier.