star trek kirk and spock

I can’t believe I’m writing a blog post about Star Trek. This is out of character for me. I don’t think I’ve watched a single episode all the way through, though I did watch one of the movies. (The movie mentioned Moby-Dick, which made me happy.) Despite this, I have somehow imbibed enough of Star Trek culture to know the difference between Kirk and Spock.

This rudimentary cultural knowledge came in handy when I read this passage from Chatter, by Ethan Kross:

“The key to avoid rumination is to combine the two Starship Enterprise crew members. When supporting others, we need to offer the comfort of Kirk and the intellect of Spock.”

When Kross says “rumination,” he means something he calls “chatter”: that long-winded, destructive voice in our heads. (See my previous blog post Chatter by Ethan Kross for more info.)

One tool in the toolbox for shutting down chatter is to talk to someone. But here’s the astonishing finding that Kross illustrates with his Star Trek analogy: not just any kind of talking will work. The talking needs to include two things—an emotional element (Kirk) and a cognitive element (Spock).

Kross points out that the emotional element is often present in such conversations. When one person seeks out another person because they are suffering from anxious rumination, the person offering support will usually say comforting things to show that they understand. They might say, “That’s awful! I’m sorry you are feeling that way.” Or they might say, “I can’t believe that is happening to you! That’s not right.”

However, Kross says, the cognitive side is often missing from the conversation. In these cases, the anxious person might feel validated, but they aren’t supported in finding practical solutions to their problem—and their chatter is likely to continue. The crucial part of cognitive support is that the supporter must help the anxious person gain perspective. They must help lift the anxious person out of their narrow box of mind and bring them some much-needed distancing from their problem.

For example, the supporter might say something like, “That has happened to me, too! You’re not the only one.” Or they might say, “Ups and downs are common in life, and you’re sure to hit an upswing soon!” Or they might offer specific advice or ask questions that help the anxious person think about their problem differently.

We can take this finding, Kross says, and apply it to both situations in which we are suffering, and situations in which we are supporting someone who is suffering. In the first case, we must seek out people who tend to provide both emotional and cognitive support—not just one or the other. In the second case, we must remember that the best way to support someone is to, first, show them that you understand, and second, help them gain perspective.

Do you reach out to people who combine the personalities of Kirk and Spock? Do you combine the personalities of Kirk and Spock when supporting others?