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Words Have Power

Posted on Tue Feb 27th, 2024 @ 11:38am by Lieutenant Commander Rin

Mission: MISSION 0 - History Speaks
Location: Academy lecture hall, Elysium
Timeline: A couple months ago
1316 words - 2.6 OF Standard Post Measure

Rin stood at the bottom of the stadium-seated classroom as the final academy students made their way to their seats. She didn’t lecture often. She didn’t like being the center of attention, although she was getting better at it. And it was the first time she had addressed a psychology class, although she had actually volunteered for this one. She was out of uniform, dressed instead in a smart maroon jacket over a black shirt.

“Good morning,” she greeted. “I am Lt. Rin, Chief of Intelligence, and I have been asked to speak on the matter of identity. How you understand yourself, how you understand other people, how they understand themselves, and what happens when those definitions are at odds.”

“First thing I want everyone to do is write down how they identify themselves. You’re not turning this in, so be honest. What are the things that make you, you? Interpret that however you wish. You have 60 seconds. Go.”

Some of the students started to immediately answer the question. Others sat and contemplated a bit before working on their lists. She could tell some were rather frantically trying to communicate a very long answer, while others were clearly finished after very short ones.

“Times up.” She gave everyone a moment to return their attention to her. “With a show of hands, how many people put their name down?”

Every hand went up.


Rin pointed to one of several hands that went up.

“That’s how we address each other as individuals,” answered the indicated cadet.

Rin nodded. “So it is an easy way for other people to identify you. Is that your sense of self? What other people call you?” She paused briefly to let them consider it. “Who put a nickname down?”

Hands went up.

“Who regularly uses a nickname, but did not put it down?”

A different selection of hands went up.

“Why?” Rin asked.

“I’m used to using my legal name in class,” answered the next student she called on.

“So, your choice was colored by what you thought was expected of you, it was colored by your environment. If a different person was asking the question, and you were somewhere other than a classroom, your answer might have been different?”

“I suppose so.”

Rin touched a button on her console, and three words appeared on the overhead display: WORDS HAVE POWER.

“Words have power,” Rin said, repeating for emphasis. “Names have power. They communicate a lot about a person. They can set the tone of a conversation. You’ve known me for all of three minutes. What do you know of me?”

More hands went up.

“You’re chief of Intelligence,” answered the first person she pointed to.

“You’re a lieutenant,” answered another.

Rin nodded. This was why she showed up out of uniform, without anything to indicate rank or department. “You’ve got two out of three. What’s the third thing you know about me?”

“You’re….named Rin?”a third student tentatively answered.

Rin nodded again. “Maybe that doesn’t sound meaningful. Just three letters. A short little noise. But it is the noise I want people to make when referring to me, and if someone calls me Rin, they are probably planning a different kind of conversation than if they called me Lieutenant. Not everyone gets to call me Rin. So that short little noise does have meaning. And someone is implying some very different things if they call me One of Six, which is not a name I presented you with.

Now, a bunch of you are thinking, “Well, that’s not really a name. It’s a designation. It objectifies a person because people should have names.”

Rin tapped another button on the console, and the display added “NAMES ARE DESIGNATIONS.”

“A designation indicates or identifies. That is what a name does. 100% percent of the time. It is a way of identifying you as a unique unit. It usually also indicates what sort of sub group you are part of - most commonly a family, clan, caste, or some combination. Things that your culture thinks are important to communicate.”

She pointed at the display. “Words have power. ‘My name is Rin.’ Harmless statement. ‘My designation is Rin.’ That’s uncomfortable. And One of Six… we really don’t like numbers in people’s names. Why not? String of letters. String of numbers. We’ve decided that letters belong in names and numbers do not.”

She paused, letting all that sink in.

“Getting back to your lists: how many of you put down your species?” Rin asked. Again, many hands went up. “How many put down the culture in which you were raised?” Again, a changing of hands. “How many of you are confused by me differentiating those two?” A few hands raised in response.

“Some cultures strongly connect the two. Some barely do at all. If a biologically human child is born on Vulcan, raised in Vulcan culture, behaves as one would expect a Vulcan to behave, are they Vulcan? Depends who you ask. Conversely, what about someone who shares genetics with Vulcans but raised in another culture? Because some of those people call themselves Romulans, and calling a Romulan a Vulcan or vice versa is generally incredibly disrespectful. Cultures matter. We are more than just genetics.”

Rin tapped another button, and new words appeared on the display: IT’S NOT ALWAYS ABOUT YOU.

“As Starfleet officers, you are expected to be diplomatic, to be tolerant of other cultures, to find ways for people to respect one another. And all of that involves seeking to better understand other people. Some of you may find yourself in a first contact situation. You will meet people of which we know absolutely nothing. It is very, very easy to make assumptions, to assume their culture functions like our culture. We cannot assume that to be the case. In fact, we should assume it does not.”

“I am an xB. Why xB? Why would I use that? We all know what the B stands for. I don’t think I’m fooling anyone. Why not just say ex-Borg and be done with it?”

“Because that’s defining you by something you’re not,” came an answer.

“Correct. I am equally not-Vulcan, not-Trill and not-Bajoran, but it would be bizarre to identify me as such, right? xB is a way of stepping away from ‘the B-word,’ as a friend puts it. We’re shaping our own identity, defining what we are, not what we were. Avoid thinking of people according to what they are not. That is applying your standard to another person. Learn who they are.”

“By the way, xB is the second thing I put on my own list.. It is, from my perspective anyway, one of the first things people see, which reinforces its importance in my own mind. If people reacted differently, perhaps I would look at it differently as well. That is me responding to the environment. But I understand, it’s the second scariest thing about me. The scariest being I’m an Intel officer.”

Nervous laughter from the students.

“Other things you may have put down: ‘citizen of the Federation,’ if you are one. ‘Starfleet cadet.’ People you’re related to. Places you’ve lived. Religion or philosophy. Gender. Age. Hobbies….. How many people listed hobbies? Things you’re good at outside of being a cadet, favorite sports teams, so on and so forth. You’re not filling out a job application or a medical form. These things can be integral to a person’s sense of identity.

“Now, you’re going to write a new list, and this time, you’re also going to think about why each point is going on your list. You’ll have 10 minutes. Go.”


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