There’s this great episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation when there’s a trial to figure out if Data is property of Star Fleet or an individual with rights. For those of you who don’t know, Data is an android, but he’s super-advanced and often seems human. In fact, his deepest desire is to know what it’s like to be human. He does things like painting, whistling, owning a cat, etc… in an attempt to become more human. He is my favorite character on the show, and that episode is my favorite episode of the series (and probably top 5 favorite of any TV show) because he and the episode exist to examine what it means to be human, which really is the purpose of all literature in my opinion.
Because the jag office is understaffed, Data’s co-workers have to serve as the lawyers of the case, and Commander Riker is given the task of proving that Data is property, while Captain Piccard serves as the defense lawyer. Riker doesn’t want to do it, because he considers Data to be a friend, but he agrees when he’s told that without his participation, the judge would rule summarily that Data was “a toaster” and didn’t have any rights.
Riker does an excellent job in the trial, but feels guilty about it, because his success would have meant Data’s destruction. However, the judge rules in favor of our favorite robot, determining that he is an individual with rights and freedoms> afterwards, Riker goes to Data and asks him for forgiveness. Data’s response is a very humane one that demonstrates empathy beyond what many of us real humans experience.
He explains that, by his actions, Riker had both saved Data and wounded himself, and therefore, there was nothing to forgive.
Isn’t that lovely? Perhaps we all ought to have an understanding of humanity and friendship that recognizes the sacrifices others make on our behalf… and perhaps we ought to be the sorts of friends who sometimes suffer wounds to save others. 🙂