Every major character in Star Trek is portrayed as highly intelligent, creative, super competent, and a leader, but Spock stands out among them with his incredible mental abilities. Half human, half alien, highly sensitive but emotionally guarded, he struggles at first to be accepted by his crew mates and must learn to respect the paradox of human frailty and potential. His commitment to logic engenders both admiration and resentment in others.
Spock’s story mirrors the intensity, commitment to learning, isolation, and even alienation that many gifted people experience. It also gives us a glimpse into the roles that society expects gifted people to play. Spock is valued by others for his abilities, but also for his selfless service, and his sacrifices earn him the respect and admiration of his crew mates. In an iconic scene from Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, Spock sacrifices his life to save the ship and crew.
Spock says to his friend, James Kirk, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.” The message could not be clearer or more logical: individual needs are less important than the needs of the larger group. Our society sends the same message to gifted students who are told that they have a responsibility to develop their gifts for the benefit of society, and that they must not call attention to their struggles as a gifted person because making comparisons of intelligence hurts the feelings of others.
Then the Star Trek story takes an interesting turn in the next movie, The Search for Spock. James Kirk and the rest of the crew rescue the reborn Spock from the Genesis planet at enormous personal cost. Spock, not yet fully recovered, asks him why, and Kirk replies, “Because the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.”
This is also one of our cultural values! We value individuality, individual drive, and we strive meet the needs of individuals. Especially when our close friends and families are involved, many are willing to sacrifice to meet the needs of an individual.
By definition, gifted people are a minority, and I see advocacy on behalf of the gifted as honoring the needs of the few. Yes, the needs of the many matter, but the needs of the few also matter. We need to be able to use the words “gifted” and “highly intelligent”. We need to be able to speak about the things that make gifted people different and their specific needs, even though this may cause others to feel pangs of insecurity. Sometimes, the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many.