In exchange between all cultures there are times when different ideologies and customs clash. In Star Trek, a television series based on interactions between humanity and alien races throughout the whole of space, these occur as well. In one particular episode, A Matter of Honor, the first ever exchange officer program occurs in which officers from a variety of species exchange commanding positions on starships. Through two exchange programs, A Benzite named Mendon who joins The Enterprise crew and Commander Riker who joins a Klingon war ship, we see how the differences in ideologies and customs clash in several incidents.
One incident that occurred and was not emphasized much in the episode was when as soon as Mendon first came aboard The Enterprise, he was subjected to innocent racism by Wesley Crusher. Wesley immediately mistook Mendon for being another Benzite that he studied with at the Star Fleet Academy, and asked him why he was already out of the academy. Mendon explains to Wesley that he is not the Benzite that he mistook him for, and that his name is Mendon. Wesley then makes asks Mendon “how do you tell others in your species apart?” and Mendon, looking shocked, replies “we just do.” Wesley feels very embarrassed about having asked the question, and apologizes, and Mendon replies that it is not a problem because he is mistaken for others among his kind quite a lot. This circumstance can and does occur commonly in different human societies as well. To many Caucasians, a lot of Asian people look similar if not the same, and the reverse is also true of many Asians and their view of Caucasians. Only through spending more time among people from these different societies will physical distinctions become much more apparent.
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Perhaps the greatest cultural clash incident that occurred in this Star Trek episode was when Mendon was reprimanded for not having followed proper protocol on the ship. If anything is out of the usual, one is to report the information to their superior, and that superior officer will then notify the captain if the problem is serious. Mendon however did not report the incident until after Captain Picard asked if anyone knew about the viral strain of bacteria on both the Klingon ship and the Enterprise. When Picard asked him why he had not reported about this bacteria prior to now, he responded by saying that in his own (Benzite) culture, one does not tell the commanding officer about a problem until it has been analyzed and a solution has been determined. Picard then rather irritatedly responds by telling Mendon about the proper protocol of the ship, and Mendon feels guilty for what he believes as having been offensive to Captain Picard. This incident resulted from a misunderstanding of how one is to behave in another culture. Mendon tries to be as efficient as possible following his Benzite methods of protocol, but he soon realizes that the way that a Benzite does things aboard a Benzite spaceship is not the same as when one is aboard The Enterprise. If Mendon had researched more about the way in which he should behave in protocol and procedures aboard The Enterprise, the entire incident may have been avoided. Learning about the culture one will be observing and participating in beforehand prevents many mishaps like these.
Another critical incident was when Riker was faced with the choice of having to either destroy The Enterprise or get executed by his commanding officer on the Klingon ship. Riker was torn between two oaths: his oath taken at the Star Fleet Academy to never betray the Federation, and his oath to obey his commanding officer aboard the Pagh. When asked by the Captain aboard the Klingon ship why he would not tell him the weaknesses of The Enterprise, Riker said it would be against his oath to the Federation, however, if The Enterprise intended to fight with the Klingon ship he would not hold back against his former allies and would fight them alongside the Klingons. The Pagh’s Captain then states that if Riker had said anything otherwise and if he would have turned on his oath to the Federation, he would have been killed on the spot for being a traitor. It is clear from this particular incident that the Klingons have a very strong sense of honor, and that going against one’s word is taboo in their society. The Klingons apply this aspect of their culture to anyone they meet, and it does not matter that Riker is a human. If Riker had committed this taboo, regardless of his race and whatever conflicts may follow suit, he would have been executed. It can be assumed that Riker had training in Klingon culture prior to his mission aboard the Pagh because he knew precisely the answer he was supposed to give in regard to these oaths. This only stresses the point that examining a culture before participating in it can have benefits and minimize conflicts later on.
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If one is to observe another culture, it is best to find out as much as you can about that culture before participating in it so as to avoid any unpleasentries that may occur otherwise. Even so, it is not possible to learn everything about a culture without taking part in it, and some mistakes are inevitable, although we will not always recognize them. When undergoing a cultural exchange much like in this Star Trek episode, it is better to err on the side of caution and believe that people from the other culture are doing what they believe is right. One should not behave brashly, like the Klingon captain, and assume that people behave in similar fashions for all circumstances. This Star Trek episode teaches us that when dealing with cultures unfamiliar to our own, behave at your best, and understand that while clashes may occur there is always a peaceful way to reconcile the situation.