Are you Captain Picard or Praetor Shinzon?
The year is 2379. Captain Jean-Luc Picard approaches the Romulan Empire on a mission of peace.
But the peace is betrayed by Praetor Shinzon, a Romulan conqueror with a heart of stone. Shinzon kidnaps Picard and reveals his plan to dominate the galaxy.
Shinzon also reveals a shocking secret – he is an exact clone of Picard!
Captain Picard and Praetor Shinzon, Star Trek Nemesis, Paramount Pictures 2002
Picard appeals to Shinzon, begs him to turn away from his dark path. “Your heart, your hands, your eyes are the same as mine,” says Picard.
Picard believes that Shinzon has a good heart – because he’s basically Picard.
But no! Picard’s faith is misplaced. Shinzon is, in fact, a totally evil bastard who tries to kill everyone even up to his last breath.
Picard loses his shit. He doesn’t want to believe that he would have been a totally evil bastard if he had been raised as Shinzon was raised.
But it’s true.
Science fact, not science fiction
Many psychological experiments, most notably the Stanford Prison Experiment, have proven that we are products of our environment. Put a good person into a bad situation and they behave like a bad person.
We don’t like to face that uncomfortable truth. We like to believe that we are good people, and that we’d still act like ourselves regardless of our circumstances.
But the facts don’t agree. Our actions and our lives are far more dependent on our environment than we’d like to believe.
Here’s an example.
The downward spiral
You feel bad. You beat up on yourself for feeling bad. You feel worse.
You’re surrounded by people who are invested in your complacency and your conformity. They discourage you from doing anything new or different, so you don’t.
You live in an environment that constantly reminds you of what’s wrong in your life. Your face is in the spikes, so you’re stuck dealing with the latest crisis instead of making things better.
The tapes in your head tell you you’re not good enough, and you believe them.
You’re stuck in a rut. It’s so easy to just do the same thing you did yesterday. So you do – and you take one more turn down the spiral.
You spiral down and down, feeling worse and worse about yourself and your life.
But it’s also possible to get into an upward spiral.
The upward spiral
You feel good. You feel gratitude for feeling good. You feel even better.
You’re surrounded by friends who believe in you, and their encouragement helps you believe in yourself.
You live in an environment that makes it easy to do the things you love, so you do them, and you feel great.
The tapes in your head cheer you on. They tell you that you’re worthy of love, that you deserve to feel joyful and fulfilled, and that you are enough, just as you are. And you believe them.
You establish habits, systems, and routines that help you coast through difficulties, and then set you up to succeed.
You spiral up and up, feeling better and better about yourself and your life.
Praetor Shinzon is the result of a downward spiral. Captain Picard is the result of an upward spiral.
Shinzon was surrounded by people who valued competition, war, racism, and hate. His environment, habits, and beliefs all pushed him down into a downward spiral.
Picard was surrounded by people who valued cooperation, exploration, equality, and love. His environment, habits, and beliefs all lifted him up into an upward spiral.
They both started from the same genes. They were shaped by their environments.
But unlike Shinzon, you can choose to change your environment. It may not be easy – it may even feel impossible – but it is possible. (Unless there are armed Romulans holding you at phaserpoint, in which case I suggest you signal a distress call.)
You are free.
You’re not chained by your genes. You’re not destined to be a bad person, a good person, a failure, a success.
It’s scary and unsettling to admit the power that your environment holds over you. But what’s even more important is to realize that you hold that power.
You’re influenced by your environment, yes – but you can change your environment.
By changing your environment, you can create an upward spiral in your life. You make one concerted effort, putting the pieces into place – and everything becomes easier in the future. Instead of struggling for every step, you’re lifted up by the upward spiral you have created.
What will you choose?
Who do you want to be?