I started watching Star Trek during high school: The Original Series with Kirk, Scotty, Bones, and Spock, The Next Generation with Picard, Geordie, Crusher, and Riker, and eventually Deep Space Nine with my favorite, Commander Benjamin Sisko.
A recurring plot device is the principle of non-interference known as The Prime Directive.
The Prime Directive is based on a tenet in the United Nations’ Charter, which the US ratified more than seventy years ago:
Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.” —Article 2
A product of the idealism and liberalism of post-World War Europe, the United Nations charter assumes that national destiny is national business, and that member states have no natural right to govern one another. The exceptions in Chapter VII of the charter include war and peacekeeping: the non-intervention and non-interference principles do not apply when parties are in a violent relationship.
So the Prime Directive is an imperfect ethic, and it’s certainly not a universal standard for interacting with others. But it often guides how I engage relatives who find me a challenge because of my work, perspectives, groups, or identities.
The principle of non-interference inspires me to take relatives’ comments and actions less personally and not to push them toward new resources before they’re ready. It also prompts me to value these elders’ self-sovereignty and process even if they occasionally struggle to value mine: with them, I get to practice “presence without control,” the art of engaging without always trying to determine what the Other must do.
Finally, the principle frees me to redirect my energy and attention to items on my desk rather than peering over at what I think others are or should be doing. Applying this principle hasn’t yet made me deny cases where someone was committing violence or I needed to intervene. It has radically reduced my stress levels!