To boldly go where no one has gone before requires courage, but also a fair share of wisdom — and no captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise had as much wisdom to offer as Jean-Luc Picard, who occupied the captain’s chair on Star Trek: The Next Generation for 178 episodes (and four movies) between 1988 and 1995.
Unlike the action-oriented vivaciousness of Captain James T. Kirk on the original Star Trek (1966-1969), Picard was a philosopher who chewed on the moral complexities of life, duty, and the many unknowns of the universe that confronted his crew week after week. Picard’s thoughtful aura was helped along by actor Patrick Stewart, who spent most of his career walking in the shoes of some of William Shakespeare’s most complex characters. “I used to get asked, ‘In a fight between Kirk and Picard, who would win?’” Stewart told Smithsonian Magazine in 2014. “And my answer always was there wouldn’t be a fight because Picard would negotiate his way around it.”
These 10 quotes represent moments of Picard’s brilliance throughout the show’s seven seasons. While many of the Starfleet captain’s problems are firmly embedded in the 24th century — the personhood of super-advanced AI, the moral failings of a galaxy-wide government, and so very many time anomalies — his words speak to timeless truths about what it means to be human.
There can be no justice, so long as laws are absolute. Life itself is an exercise in exceptions.
You have to measure your successes and your failures within. Not by anything that I or anyone else might think.
Seize the time... Live now! Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.
It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not weakness, that is life.
The only person you’re truly competing against is yourself.
Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. But I rather believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey, and reminds us to cherish every moment because they'll never come again.
You cannot explain away a wantonly immoral act because you think that it is connected to some higher purpose.
Open your mind to the past: to history, art, philosophy. And then [looks at the stars] this will mean something.
There are times, sir, when men of good conscience cannot blindly follow orders.
What we leave behind is not as important as how we lived. After all, number one, we're only mortal.
Photo credit: George Rose/ Contributor/ Getty Images