Let's examine Ethical Behavior...at the expense of Deanna Troi.
On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek The Next Generation, The Price (Season 3, Episode 8). He will examine the leadership approaches of Captain Picard and Commander Riker.
We look at Ethics and how to apply Ethical Behavior. Jeff also issues a challenge to listeners!
Welcome, everyone! I really appreciate you joining me today. On this episode, we watch the 8th episode of the 3rd season of The Next Generation, The Price.
Troi is exhausted. She’s all but plopping into her quarters after a long day of work. She has a fun, pontificating moment against the replicator; she just wants chocolate! <nutritional guidelines> Based on this and this alone I call the replicator a fundamentally flawed technology. I mean, it’s seriously going to restrict your mean options because of nutritional content?? It’s making food out of almost nothing!! I’d hope…no, I pray; I’ll pray to god, allah, shiva, Yahweh, zeus, Horus, Ronald McDonald….that at this point in the 24th century they can make food taste like magic dancing on your tongue but give it the nutritional value of kale and whatever other inedible garbage our bodies need!
True confession here – I really, really enjoy eating. A lot!
Ok, back to Troi. She’s just trying to unwind a little after a long day at work; we can all relate to that right? Well, we can probably relate to what happens next. Picard hails her <now what?> and invites her to an informal social event…that is pretty much a required work function.
You see, the Barzans have discovered what appears to be the first stable wormhole ever and it is about to appear. It opens every 233 minutes, like clockwork. <god forbid I miss…>
The Barzans are selling the rights to the wormhole and the negotiations will take place on Enterprise. We meet the Federation negotiator, Mendoza, and Leyor of the Caldonians. The negotiator for the Chrysalians, Devinoni Ral, introduces himself. The other negotiators hype up Ral; saying he’s the best hired gun in the galaxy.
We learn a bit about the Barzans, this is their first appearance in Star Trek. They are not self-sufficient and hope selling off the rights to the wormhole will bring them to that point. We also learn their atmosphere isn’t compatible with most life; so they wear the adaptive devices to breathe when away from their planet.
Riker comes in and lets everyone know a Ferengi delegation has arrived and want to participate. They weren’t invited, but Bhavani, the Barzan Premier, doesn’t want to shut anyone out, because afterall. They beam in and get right to bloviating! Hey, that’s a pretty fun word – bloviating. There’s the leader, Damon Goss along with Kol and Dr. Arridor. Goss just dumps a bag of gold on the table and says he’ll beat anyone else’s offer.
Picard shines here as they big time Worf and treat him like he’s a servant. <clip about the chairs>. I applaud the production team here! They made some fun choices but one, also, that so many of us can relate to! After that little exchange, Picard leaves the room; waits for the door to close; and just sighs. You know that moment, don’t you? When you just finished working or talking through what felt like the most petty or ridiculous thing; and you just have to breathe it out. Out with the bad…in with the good…
Troi is in her office and she’s hitting the old google machine! Or, for us more security-minded people: the DuckDuckGo machine. She’s learning as much as she can about Ral when, oops, awkward! Ral shows up!! He’s super confident about the negotiations and asks Troi out for dinner. We get some kind of creepy, super cringy pick-up lines from Ral here. He’s pretty aggressive too, but Troi seems to go along with it. Look, this episode came out in ’89. I have some pretty strong thoughts about how Ral interacted with Troi, but I’ll just leave it with what I said – creepy and cringy. But, I mean, ok, no, full disclosure time here. I am married to my best friend and the woman of my dreams, but not because I was some smooth operator. In fact, when I was young I would say one of my superpowers was the ability to be completely oblivious on how to interact with women. So, my question, specifically to the women listening, but really, anyone – does stuff like this work? Awkwardly and semi-aggressively playing with your hair and talking to you as if you are a personified object; is that attractive?? I’m guessing no, but, I am also the exact opposite of an expert on these things. Yikes, Star Trek.
Data and Geordi are researching the wormhole. Mendoza is getting a bit of an advantage here. As the Federation negotiator, he gets to sit in on the report outs. Data is going over the data the Barzan’s unmanned probe gathered. It went through and came out deep in the gamma quadrant; about a century long journey at warp 9, according to Picard. Riker and Mendoza assess the negotiations. The Ferengi just don’t have access to the resources the Barzan are looking for but they agree Ral is the real threat. Mendoza is impressed <you must play poker>. Picard and Riker are wildly skeptical about the stability of the wormhole and Data agrees with them. The Barzans sent a single unmanned probe; there just isn’t enough data to confirm the value of the wormhole, so Riker suggests they send a team into it. Picard agrees, after they do a full sensor analysis, to send Data and LaForge.
The Ferengi, in the meantime, are up to no good. They really are the cartoon-style villains in TNG, aren’t they? Well, they’re injecting Goss with a biological compound that will take out one of the negotiators by causing an extreme allergic reaction. Which is totally successful. Goss shakes hands with Mendoza and he ends up in sickbay. He’s out for the count, but will be better in a few days.
Ral meets Troi at her quarters and she invites him in. He wastes no time. Before you know it, they’re having drinks and <I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you>…well, the scene, well, it goes on from there.
Goss is in the ready room arguing with Riker and Picard, objecting to the mission Data and LaForge are conducting. They say they’re going to send their own shuttle in because they don’t trust the Federation to be forthcoming with the data. After they leave, Picard assigns Riker to step in as negotiator for the Federation. Riker has doubts, but Picard encourages him saying that he has the base skills and the instincts to be successful.
We all know that growth happens when we step outside of our comfort zones, right? If you always do the same things and only stick to what you’re good at, you won’t actually grow or develop. At some point, you’ll just be really good at that one thing you always do. And, hey, for some people that might be just fine. But I don’t think that’s you. If you just wanted to be decent, or even good, at one thing, you probably wouldn’t be listening to this podcast. No, you want to grow and develop. And I would imagine that’s the case for most people serving on the Enterprise as well.
Let’s take Riker here as an example. We’re going to have a couple episodes of TNG in the future where he has opportunities to step outside of his comfort zone and he’ll turn them down. I’m looking forward to looking more closely at those. But, overall, especially up to this point, Riker hasn’t been afraid to take on the unknown. He served as a conn officer in his first posting, moved on to serve on Betazed in a diplomatic capacity, then moved into Operations on the Potemkin, finally landing his first XO position on the Hood. Each posting required different skillsets and provided different experiences.
At this point, he’s well established as first officer of Enterprise. He likely gets through his day-to-day pretty easily. On the ship he’s given a lot of opportunities, just through his position. So he, and his supervisor, have to be open for things outside the outside of the norm. And this is a perfect example. Picard sees an opportunity the Enterprise doesn’t find itself in that often; a direct trade negotiation. I mean, they’re often mediating or facilitating things like this, but it’s rare they have a direct stake. He is very aware of Riker’s skills and abilities; he knows his strengths well. So, when this opportunity presents itself, he’s quick to match Riker to the job.
Riker, expectedly, resists; he’s never done anything like this before! So Picard quickly justifies his choice by telling Riker how his skills match up to the negotiation. Because they’ve established trust, Riker agrees. The piece they don’t show or even talk about is the implicit belief and faith that Riker will have all the support he needs. I’m sure Picard has no intention of making this assignment and then leaving Riker on his own. If he runs into problems or has questions, Picard, and the rest of the crew, will be there to support him as he stretches his abilities.
This is how people grow; it’s how they develop. They take on real-life, actual assignments that are just beyond their current skill and experience levels. And, with support from their supervisor and team, they get it done.
LaForge and Data are heading into the wormhole. Their Ferengi counterparts are heading in as well. The shots in this scene show how even the flagship of the Federation, the luxury yacht that is the Enterprise, really cut some corners! I mean, Data is practically sitting in Geordi’s lap! If you have even a hint of claustrophobia, seeing the 2 of them in their shuttle is almost unbearable!
LaForge laments getting stuck in the gamma quadrant with the Ferengi while Data shows a level of self-awareness, or lack thereof, that is hilarious <you’ll have me to talk to>.
Into the breach they go! Some high quality, late 80’s TV effects show the wormhole as we return to the negotiating table.
Ral is being “helpful” to Riker <don’t be afraid to ask>. Despite the Caldonians and Ferengi being at the table, the real back and forth is between Riker and Ral.
After that, we meet up with Troi and Ral again. They’re talking about her betazoid and human responses to him. A little foreshadowing here. She shares how special Riker is to her and how much his friendship means to her, despite their relationship once being more than that. Troi then picks up on a great social tactic Ral is using. She asks, <why are we talking about me>?
There is nothing people like talking about more than themselves. So, if you want to establish a positive relationship with them, ask questions that allow them to talk about themselves. There’s a weird psychology to encouraging people to talk like that, and I’d like to challenge you to try it. I challenge everyone I mentor with this exercise and every single person that does it has the same result; they establish meaningful relationships and end up one of the more memorable people at the event.
Here’s the challenge: The next time you find yourself at a networking event, or a meet ‘n greet or some situation that puts a number of people that don’t really know each other, I want you to do nothing but ask questions. If someone asks you a question, quickly respond but follow up immediately with a question of your own. And, every question you ask has to let that person talk about themselves. Reveal very little about yourself; don’t tell your jokes or your stories; just ask questions.
“It’s nice to meet you, so, what do you do? How long have you been there? Do you have any cool stories about it? What’s exciting to you? I see you have an Oregon Ducks scarf, have you ever been to a game?”
Let the conversation steer your questions, but just keep asking. Even if they come back at you: “Yeah, I love the Ducks! We have season tickets. What about you?”
“Never been to a game but a big fan. Did you attend U of O? Tell me what made you a fan.”
Just turn it around.
Without fail, you will be remembered and people will want to interact with you again. Often the most memorable person an event is the person that talked with everyone but said very little about themselves.
Earlier I said I married the woman of my dreams, but not because I was a smooth operator. In retrospect, though, maybe I was, because I used this technique! We are both musicians. Well, she’s a musician, I’m a drummer, so, do the math. We were working on an album back before we were dating. Now, for all the non-musicians out there, recording is a long and pretty tedious process. As a drummer, I’m usually done with my tracks first; they’re recorded first as the foundation of the track. And she, as a vocalist, is usually done last. That leaves a lot of time in between us recording where we’re waiting on the bass, the guitars and whatever else to get laid down. So, we ended up spending time together in the control room.
I decided to put my money where my mouth was with her. And here’s where I prove out my super power… I strategically planned my interactions with her before arriving at the studio, so I’d be prepared to just ask questions of her. I know…so romantic, right? Well, in my defense, these recording sessions could go 4-6 hours; that’s a lot of questions to ask!
But I did it. For the whole recording session, I only asked her questions. I’d respond to her briefly and then flip it back into a question to her. And, hey, the proof’s right in front of us! Years of marriage, a mortgage, a child and a business together. Years later and she still brings that up! She says she left that recording session fascinated with me and wanting more. You see; there is real power in asking questions and letting the other person talk about themselves.
I also remember a person I mentored years ago. They were very much an introvert and they were having a hard time connecting with others in the workplace and in their personal life. They took the challenge. At a parent’s night for their child’s little league baseball team, he just asked questions and encouraged people to talk about themselves. I actually reached out to him while prepping for this episode to see how he was. It was about 9 years ago, from the time of this recording, that he took the challenge. He said there are three families from that time he and his family still spend time with.
So, you try it out. And let me know how it goes. @jefftakin on all the social media.
Anyway, Ral is still doing his thing. And Troi is really connecting with him. She’s questioning why she’s connecting, and this causes Ral to share a big secret. He’s a quarter betazoid and has empathic powers. He says he’s learned to use it, but also makes him feel isolated; no one else in his life could relate to what he felt – until he met Troi.
Back to the 80’s TV effects of the wormhole. Both shuttles emerge safely, but Data is concerned. They’re not in the gamma quadrant where they expected to be. Instead, they are in the Delta quadrant.
Then we get to, oh…it’s THIS episode. Crusher and Troi in jazzercise leotards and talking about Ral. Really authentic conversation. You know it’s real when Crusher says, “fella.” You know, because people say that all the time. Anyway, they basically agree that Troi feels good about her relationship with Ral, she should lean into it.
As if to a put a point on the misogyny in this episode, we go to ten-forward where Damon Goss is oogling over different women and unsuccessfully trying to hit on them.
Ral is in there talking with the Caldonian negotiator. He’s positioning the negotiation in a way that makes the whole thing seem unattractive to them. They’re a scientific, researching culture, not administrative. Subtle musical queue when Leyor says he’s been feeling trepidation about that. The queue leads us to believe that Ral knows what he’s feeling, and is using that to pressure the Caldonians.
We get some confirmation on that as Leyor withdraws the Caldonian bid. Riker jumps on this to offer a trade between them and the Federation to add to the Federation bid. But Leyor drops a bomb. He’s already agreed to that deal with Ral for the Chrysalians. <You either have good instincts or foreknowledge>.
Back in the Delta quadrant, LaForge is seeing there are unexpected changes in the wormhole and is trying to encourage the Ferengi to leave with them. The Ferengi are big-timing them and won’t wait. Data confirms that this end of the wormhole is not stable and that if they don’t return now, they will likely be stranded in the delta quadrant in their shuttle. They don’t listen <idiots> so Geordi heads back into the wormhole. We then see the wormhole close, stranding the Ferengi. Remember that. In a rare moment in 90’s Star Trek, this little plot point will pay off at some point.
Ral is praising Riker’s skill to Troi, while low key cutting him down too. She starts to see through it all and accuses him of unethical behavior. He doesn’t tell people about his empathic abilities so he can gain an unfair advantage. And then he crosses the line <I used it with you…>. He continues to defend his actions and his approach. She keeps pushing back; says she doesn’t hide her empathy and uses it to help people while he does hide it and uses it to manipulate others.
He raises a valid argument: <do you tell the Romulan or just your captain>. She says that a matter of life and death. He agrees and says he deals in property; and no one gets hurt. He asks which of them has the bigger problem with ethics.
Ethics. Wow. We’re not going to learn everything about ethics here in this podcast – I don’t think I can fit millennia worth of knowledge and debate into it! But we will dive into it in the command codes. But this short debate really demonstrates the differing viewpoints and interpretations of ethics and ethical behavior. They are both using the same tool, empathy, but to very different ends and in different ways. When we look at this, we will look at it through an “ends justify the means” lens.
Ral approaches Riker in ten-forward. Looks like he’s going to try with him what he did with the Caldonians. His approach, though, is not nearly as effective. He taunts Riker with the relationship he has with Troi but Riker isn’t having it. Much like Troi earlier said how much she values Riker and his friendship, he says the same here.
This is such a subtle and incredible look at, well, at true love. Two people that have full respect for each other, care about each other completely and want nothing but the best for each other. In an episode fraught with problematic relationships, this moment shines. True friendship and a deep love.
Riker, the consummate poker player, capitalizes on the misread by Ral <your first bad play>. And then he drives the other part of the ethics argument. <you have no values>. Personal values; what matters to you. He basically says that his lack of values will cost him in the long run, even if he wins this deal.
Goss is upset and accuses the Barzan of signing a secret agreement with the Federation. They fire missiles at the wormhole to destroy it, but Worf is able to shoot them out of the sky. This prompts a red alert and pulls Riker to the bridge. This leaves Ral with Bhavani who continues his pitch that the Federation are aggressive and will bring more disarray than order to the Barzan if they agree to their bid.
Here, we see the ethical dilemma posed by Ral and Troi put into action. Damon Goss is intent on destroying the wormhole, but Troi can tell he’s lying and that he doesn’t mean what he says. Ral and Bhavani enter the bridge and Picard allows him to address Goss.
He shares that he and the Barzan have reached an agreement and the Chrysalians won the rights to the wormhole. He offers the Ferengi free access to it if they stand down. They agree.
Troi addresses Bhavani but asks if Ral wants to say something <I sensed you felt uncomfortable>. She explains there was no tension between Ral and Goss; it was like they were performing a scene. She shares Ral’s secret of being part betazoid and says this incident was staged to strengthen the Chrysalian bid.
LaForge and Data emerge from the wormhole. They report that this end of the wormhole is stable, but the other end is not. <it’s a dry well, captain>. Riker congratulates Ral on his “win.”
Troi welcomes Ral into her quarters. He says he had no choice as the Barzan were ready to go with the Federation. She disagrees, and he says that her actions have forced him to take a hard look at himself <I don’t like what I see>. He pleads with her to join him as he leaves saying she could help him; she could be his conscience. And she has a great response: <I already have a job>. Yeah!!
The episode ends with Troi reflecting on everything that happened.
So much potential. There is some real potential in this episode. It has cool sci fi elements, like the wormhole and the fact the galaxy is officially divided into the Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta quadrants – this is the first time that was ever said and confirmed in Star Trek.
It has a high stakes negotiation with a lot of different players. And it has a love story.
But even with all that, it pretty much failed on all points. Well, that’s not fair. The wormhole stuff was pretty cool and interesting. Up to this point in Star Trek they really hadn’t explored the concept of wormholes all that much; so to find one that appears to be stable to pretty cool.
Honestly, the best part of this episode, aside from the deep bond between Riker and Troi…and Picard’s just total lack of patience for Damon Goss, is the set up for the 3rd season Voyager episode False Profits – but more on that in a future episode.
I think I read a comment that Marina Sirtis made at a convention once about this episode. She said something like, “They finally had a decent love story for Deanna. And then they screwed it all up.” Or something like that. And, yeah, that pretty much sums up this one.
A great coach I worked with once said: potential only counts for so much; at some point, well, at some point, you just suck.
During the episode we talked about the art of asking questions and encouraging others to talk about themselves. I cannot overstate the power of this strategy. In addition to the challenge I gave, I also want to encourage you to apply this in your one-on-one meetings with your teams. Give them the floor and let them talk about themselves. When you listen, it is amazing what you will learn.
We also talked about moving outside of your own comfort zone as a development tool, and encouraging this with your staff as well.
In this episode, though, the real lesson is on ethics. Now, I do not want to present myself as an expert on ethics, by any means. However, as a leader, behaving in an ethical manner is critical for you to earn trust and to be able to represent your teams and your organization.
Ethics are, most simply, the study of what is right and what is wrong in human conduct. Ethics are similar to morals, but ethics will have reasoning applied to them. Alex Andrews George of Clear IAS says that being moral is about adhering to what is described by society or religion, for example, while being ethical is about figuring out what is right by applying principles and considering all the complexities involved.
So ethical behavior is determining how to behave in a morally correct manner; actually applying morals to a situations.
In this episode the question of ethical behavior is brought up in terms in Ral’s empathic abilities. He can sense the emotions of those around him. This gives him a tremendous advantage in dealing with other people. I mean, we can all determine the emotions of others, just like he describes, through social cues, body language, verbal cues and the like. But he has the added ability; the added sense in that he can actually feel what they are feeling.
Troi shares this ability and uses it in her role as ship’s counselor. It could be assumed that her ability uniquely suits her to that position. But Ral uses it for an edge in negotiating. He senses, for example, when Leyor is having second thoughts on the process and he uses that to encourage him to withdraw.
One could easily argue, and Ral does, that that is simply his job. Find an advantage and exploit it. It just so happens the advantage he found was done so through his abilities that no one at the table knows he has. So let’s look at this situation in two other ways; first as if Ral does not have any extraordinary empathic abilities and, second, as if Leyor knew that Ral had his abilities.
Ral is a skilled negotiator. He has the skills necessary to represent his clients’ best interests. One of those skills is the ability to read people and adjust his strategy accordingly. In this situation, from what we saw, Leyor was a full participant in the negotiations; there was nothing that indicated he was having second thoughts. So Ral continues with his strategy, but may, possibly sense a little that is off with Leyor. If he happened to sense that, from what we see and know, he would have to spend more time prodding and asking questions; most often at the table with everyone else there. So, as he’s learning Leyor’s trepidation, everyone else has the opportunity to see it as well. If it comes out that he’s not really into it, other may have had the opportunity to negotiate the side-deal that Ral was ultimately able to do in the episode itself.
So, no special abilities, he could still have the same outcome, but other would have had a competitive chance to do the same.
Now, let’s assume his empathic abilities are well known. People go into negotiations with him knowing that he can feel their emotions. Leyor, knowing this, decides he still wants to negotiate for the rights so the Caldonians can set up a sub-agreement with someone else to administer the wormhole. So he adjusts his strategy, keeps him emotions in check, and likely remains competitive through the process.
So, being open and honest about his abilities could lead to an entirely different outcome. In all fairness, maybe Leyor just isn’t very good at his job and Ral is still able to take advantage of his feelings, but then that’s on Leyor, and, honestly, the rest of the negotiators. They know what they’re up against so they had better be bringing their best and watching closely for these situations.
But this examination doesn’t necessarily prove his behavior is unethical; it just shows that there are other possibilities. And the stakes here are rights to a wormhole; they’re economic consequences. Morally, you could say that no one is being hurt; no one is in danger. Now you could question whether or not this a form of stealing or theft, but the fact that is something to explore and question keeps this kind of gray.
But his own choices and his own explanation demonstrate the ethical standing of his choice to hide his empathic abilities. While having dinner with Troi he says about his empathic abilities, “I used them with you,” so he could have a physical relationship with her. Whoa!! Now this is a whole different ball game! I hope there isn’t any gray in this one for you. When you’re taking advantage of someone , specifically manipulating their emotions, for an outcome like this…yeah, nothing moral about that and clearly demonstrating unethical behavior.
But Jeff! You say. She still seemed to like him, you say. Yeah, maybe she did. Maybe, and we’ll never know, but maybe he was the perfect match for her. Why won’t we know? Well, Ral believes the end justify the means.
I imagine you’ve heard that phrase before. It basically means that the outcome justifies what you did to make it happen. So, as an extreme and kind of fun example, we’ll say you work for a small, local record store and you’re about to get bought out by a huge, chain of record stores. You don’t want that to happen, so, one night when you’re closing, you decide to take the days’ receipts and head to casino. Play some craps, bet it all on red, whatever, you double your money and save the store! Hooray! But, you stole money from your employer and put it all at risk. Does the fact you bet well make it ok that you did that? Did the ends – saving the store, justify the means – stealing money? According to Machiavelli’s The Prince, yes. Yes it does make it ok.
But do we live in a Machiavellian society? A society full of narcissists, scheming, dishonesty and manipulation…no, we don’t - though we certainly have our moments, don’t we? Machiavelli says, “Whoever desires to found a state and give it laws, must start with assuming that all men are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature.”
There are a number of examples in society of us saying the ends do not justify the means. August 7, 2007 Barry Bonds hit a record breaking 756th homerun. Awesome, right? Nope. Dude was on steroids, or, performance enhancing drugs. He will forever have an asterisk next to that record.
There is, of course, deflate-gate, where The Patriots had gameballs deflated during the 2014 AFC Championship game. Yay, they won and went to the Superbowl, but quarterback Tom Brady was suspended and the team was fined a million dollars.
The November 1990 episode of Saved by The Bell, Jessie’s Song tells the heartbreaking story of Jessie Spano, overachiever and straight A student, using caffeine pills to give her an edge in her studies. Does her perfect report-card justify drug use and risking her health? We can all likely agree that it does not. This is a great episode, by the way, and a defining moment in my adolescence.
I think we can all agree, though, also, that if we did live in a Machiavellian society, these would all be ok. Bonds would be a hero and likely have gotten a parade, Tom Brady would still be with The Patriots and we would see him as a role model, and Jessie Spano would have been given accolades and scholarships for pushing herself further than anyone else.
So, Ral wins the negotiation and he, temporarily, “gets the girl.” Does that justify keeping his abilities secret? In the world of Star Trek? In our culture and society? No; I sure don’t think so, and neither does he. In a moment of redemption, at the end of the episode, he willingly goes to take accountability for buying a dry well and he commits to doing some much needed self-reflection. Good for him.
What are your thoughts on ethical behavior. I am by no means an expert and absolutely don’t have the credentials to speak from a place of authority on them. Also, and I’m serious here, am I being overly critical of how Ral interacted with Troi? Especially at the beginning of the episode? Is Ral a <Smooth Operator>? Let me know! I’m on all the social media @jefftakin Jeff, t as in talk about themselves, a k i n. And, can you help me out? If you have enjoyed the Starfleet Leadership Academy or learned anything from it, please tell a friend, colleague or someone you feel can benefit from it about it.
Now let’s see what we’re going to watch next time….
For the Cause! Episode 22 of the 4th season of Deep Space 9. Brush up on your Maquis storylines for this one! A lot happens here. I can’t wait.
Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!