Nov. 29, 2022

067: DIS: Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum

How hard will you work for a moment of peace?

On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek Discovery, Si vis pacem, para bellum (Season 1, Episode 8). He will examine the leadership approaches of Michael Burnham and Commander Saru.

Si vis pacem, para bellum is latin for let him who desires peace prepare for war. And that’s what we’re going to do! But not the war you’re thinking of. Peace is so important for everyone, but especially when people are depending on you; when you are a leader. But you often have to work to create the space for that peace

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Welcome! Thanks for joining me today. Have you heard this one before? Person is overwhelmed and overworked but can’t seem to take the time off and away they desperately need? It is not always easy, but I’m going to share how you can do the work necessary to take that time. I’m also going to share the real life magic that can literally change the world. Let’s beam in, it’s the 8th episode of the 1st season of Discovery, Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum <<bzzzt>> Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum, wow. Sorry. Let’s try one more time: Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum.




The USS Gagarin is under attack from 6 Klingon ships. Discovery swoops in to make the save, but they don’t. They are overwhelmed so Lorca makes a tough call and sends Discovery away. “The Gagrin’s gone. Get us out of here.” 4:27 The Klingon’s cloaking technology is letting them dominate every engagement. No warning and nothing but carnage.


After the jump, Stamets stumbles out of the spore chamber. Stamets is the one that injected himself with tardigrade DNA and now plugs himself into the spore drive system to act as the navigator. Well, the effects are really starting to show. “Feel alright, Lt? What are you doing down here, Captain?” 5:25 Um, Tilly’s a cadet. Whoops! He snaps at her and storms off.


In a meeting with an Admiral, Lorca learns that Kol of House Kor is sharing cloaking technology to any House that swears loyalty him. They have a theory, though. They believe that with some advanced sonar-type tech on the planet Pahvo they’ll be able to detect cloaked ships. “The sound is broadcast into space by a natural antenna.” 7:33 Burnham, the security chief Ash Tyler and first officer Saru are on the planet to set this up.


Saru is not doing well. The planet has a constant sound to it, and he is much more attuned to things like that. What appears to be an ethereal being sort of appears and Saru attempts to communicate with it. He believes it’s leading them somewhere, so they follow.


We catch up with Kol. L’Rell, the one that sent Voq away some time ago, the one that helped both Voq and T’Kuvma build their vision, is trying to swear loyalty to Kol but he’s not having it. She offers her skills as an interrogator, so he has her go work on Admiral Cornwell, who was captured by them. And she gets right to work. Carrying terrifying looking stuff she tells Cornwell to scream and then asks her one question, “What happens to those captured by the Federation?” 16:59 Surprised they’re treated humanely and not killed she shocks Cornwell, and us! “I wish to defect.” 17:26 Whoa!! She has an escape plan for them. She doesn’t say anything, but Cornwell agrees to help out.


On Pahvo, Saru is treating this as a first contact while Ash Tyler is worried they are hostile. Saru is able to connect with them, but they aren’t able to communicate quite yet. Burnham explains this changes the mission. They can’t just go hook up to the antenna now. This is a sentient species so they’re under first contact protocol and need to get their permission. “We can’t borrow or alter their property without permission.” 12:40


Tilly confronts Stamets about his attitude. He admits that he’s not good. “One minute I know what’s up. The next, everything has changed.” 16:04 The tardigrade DNA and the mycelial spore stuff is messing with him. He hasn’t old Dr Culber, his husband, because Culber would either have to turn Stamets in, or help hide him, jeopardizing his job. A lose-lose. Tilly agrees to keep it quiet and to help him out. He nods, but is far from reassured.


Saru has been struggling to communicate with the Pahvans…is that what you call them? Yeah, I think it is. But he’s made quite a discovery; see what I did there? “Are they native to the planet? They are the planet.” 18:39 Ok, cool. So the entire planet has come together as a single, symbiotic living being. It’s a place of total peace and harmony. As they are sleeping, the Pahvans connect, almost meld with Saru. He finds himself completely at peace afterwards.


In the morning he takes all their communicators and destroys them. He tells them they are going to stay here, on Pahvo now. Burnham freaks out and he says, “In time you will experience this world as I do.”  22:16 Oh no! They got Saru!! Their promise of peace has completely seduced him.


L’Rell and Cornwell’s escape does not go well. They get caught. L’Rell tries to cover by having Cornwell attack her, but L’Rell overpowers her and makes it look like she’s dead. Or, maybe she is dead… L’Rell drags her body away, confident Kol bought her story. And he appears to. He accepts her vow of loyalty, puts red paint on her face because, well, because that’s what he does, I guess. But then he calls her BS and his guards haul her away.


Tyler and Saru are talking. Tyler is acting as if he’s interested in Saru’s experience with the Pahvans. It doesn’t work for long, though. “Your intentions are false.” 27:58 Tyler was stalling him! Burnham left some time ago to get to the antenna and Saru takes off after her! And dude can run!! Despite the really corny, awkward effects… But he catches up to her just as she starts to activate the transmitter. Now, for a guy that just connected to and found inner peace, he unleashes horrifying violence! He tosses Burnham around like a rag doll and starts beating on the transmitter. She phasers him – it takes a few times to take him down – and he finally stops. The Pahvans bring Ash Tyler to them and they berate Saru for what he did. They eventually agree to let them use the transmitter, and Discovery beams them up. Burnham visits Saru in sickbay. He apologizes and Burnham kind of brushes it off, “You weren’t yourself.” 35:15 but he continues. “But I was.” 35:18 He said he felt so free, so unafraid and he’d never experienced that before. He was desperate to hold onto it.


But using the transmitter does not turn out the way anyone expected. “The transmitter is sending a signal to the Federation and the Klingons.” 38:43 It’s an invitation. The Pahvans believe bringing them together will lead to peace. The episode ends with Kol’s ship, the Sarcophagus ship warping into the system and the Discovery getting ready to fight.


<<Red Alert>>


Can I be honest with you? I didn’t really care for this one as much as I remember. The L’Rell and Cornwell stuff was fantastic! And I enjoyed the scenes on Discovery, but the Pahvo stuff just didn’t hit the same. The idea of this one is awesome, but they missed the mark in a few key parts.


Quarks – Ads


First, I mentioned it in the recap, but the effects to show how fast Saru could run were embarrassingly bad. They took me completely out of the episode. But that was really meant to give us more insight into Kelpians and how they work. If you remember from earlier Discovery episodes, on Saru’s home planet, Kaminar, his people, the Kelpians, are a prey species. They are hunted by the other species on the planet so they have developed certain senses and instincts to protect them. They have threat ganglia that pop out when they sense danger, they can hear really well and, apparently, can run super fast. They spent a chunk of time in this episode with him talking about all of this, so I’m sure this will be important info as the series continues.


And then, wow, they are really gonna push this Ash Tyler and Michael Burnham romance, aren’t they? I don’t hate it, but I’d also appreciate if they were a little more professional about it. Now, I know, I know…this is a show and it creates drama and stuff, but still, “Camp on the beach, under the stars.” 14:17 Ugh…can I get you any more cheese with that?


All of that said, the acting was amazing in this. Doug Jones brought it! I am so impressed with how much emotion he can express through all that makeup and the prosthetics. Super well done.


Two more things on this one that I really dug. First, I am all here for the Cornwell and L’Rell stuff. It totally looks like Cornwell is dead, but I have a feeling we’ll see more of her. And Kol’s betrayal of L’Rell was awesome not only because he’s just a total jerk, but also, she’s a master manipulator and caught in the act! Love it.


And finally, this episode is GORGEOUS! It looks so good!! After so many years of pretty cheesy looking Star Trek, to see something as cinema quality as this – except for Usain Bolt Saru – is so exciting. In fact, even if you aren’t into Discovery, mute this one and watch it. It’s some high quality TV.


Oh, and last week I talked about this one did a whole needs of that many thing. Yeah, they said it, but it wasn’t as big a thing as I remember it. Still, I’m always down for a callback to that question. Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or one? “Needs of the many.” 14-ish minute area? Well, that will be a discussion for another episode.


<<Command Codes>>


Si vis pacem, para bellum is latin for let him who desires peace prepare for war. And that’s what we’re going to do! But not the war you’re thinking of. Peace is so important for everyone, but especially when people are depending on you; when you are a leader. But you often have to work to create the space for that peace and I’m going talk about how to make that happen.


I’m also going to share an approach to conflict resolution that the Pahvans offer in this episode that you can use in all of your interactions. But to kick it all off, I’m going to offer the counterpoint to my story about a manager of mine passing away that I shared in the 65th episode of the podcast, TNG The First Duty.


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In the episode on TNG’s the First Duty I told the story of my manager and how she passed away unexpectedly. I was rocked to my core at how quickly we just got back to work, barely even pausing to acknowledge or reflect on her passing. Like he often does, Lorca presents a total counterpoint, but this time, he’s not wrong.


There are times, there are situations where it isn’t appropriate to take time to grieve. Now, these situations should be very rare, but they will happen, and they could possibly happen to any of us. In this episode of Discovery, we open on an absolutely brutal battle against the Klingons. A Federation ship is lost and the Discovery has not other option than to retreat. The crew is pretty rocked, but he steps in and says, “There will be time to grieve, this is not that time.” 4:55


Now you might be thinking this won’t apply to you. You lead the kitchen crew for the morning shift, what could possibly happen that I wouldn’t have time to grieve? Well, I used to be the management rep on my building’s safety committee. The prior rep and chair had been pretty lax in their duties and I wanted to help reinvigorate the committee and be sure we compliant with OSHA. For my international listeners, OSHA is a federal government agency in the US that is responsible for setting and enforcing safe work conditions.


I was pretty confident I could get people excited about the safety committee but I wasn’t sure how to be compliant. Luckily, our local OSHA offered trainings to chairs and management reps, so we signed up. Now this was an office building. The company I worked for leased it and we were the only tenants. These trainings were open to everyone, though, so there was a real mix of industries and situations. The class started with introductions, as they often do, and they had us say who we were, where we worked and common safety incidents.


Oof, I’ll never forget the existential dread that came over me as each person introduced themselves and it got closer to me. It was, ‘hi, I’m Kate and I work at this machine shop. Last week dude drilled a hole through their hand,’ or, ‘I’m Joe and I work at XYZ paint company. We had this guy slip and fall into a vat of paint; he totally drowned in that stuff.’ It finally got to me. I was sweating – there was a lump in my throat the size of a honeycrisp apple and my mouth was as dry as the virgin sands outside of Arrakeen on Arrakis. I slowly open my mouth and had the unmitigated gall to say, ‘Hi, I’m Jeff from the YYZ company, and, sometimes, the carpet frays a little bit and people might trip on it sometimes.’ Yeah…was rough.


Anyway, in a horrible way, I was reminded that even in the most droll of circumstances, you never know what is going to happen and, as a leader, you must be ready and able to respond appropriately. Now my story has a happy ending, but not all of them do, and the difference between those endings is often your ability to tell if it is time to grieve yet or not.


We had a fire. Yeah, those actually happen, they aren’t just made up by some extreme wing of the government to justify firefighting budgets and force people in awkward drills their entire lives. We were working and the alarms went off. People slowly, lackadaisically got up and started filtering to the doors. You know, the way we all move when there’s a fire drill. I was doing the same, until I smelled the smoke. I knew there was an important meeting going on in the conference room and imagined they thought this was a drill and were ignoring it. I opened the door, told them it wasn’t a drill, and they got out of there.


But let’s pretend I didn’t smell the smoke, and no one opened the door to tell them to get out. This story could have gone a very different direction. And if it had, I, and the other leaders in the organization, would not have been able to stop and mourn for them. We wouldn’t be able to stop and cry. We had hundreds of people we would need to take care of, who would need our focused and undivided attention. If we didn’t offer that, the casualties could have grown dramatically.


When tragedy strikes, and it likely will, at least once in your career, you must make a split-second decision on how you are going to react. In the story I shared in the First Duty episode, there were no lives on the line. No one was in harm’s way. We could stop and we could grieve. In the fire, or whatever emergency or tragedy you encounter happens, if there are still lives on the line, you know that you can stop and grieve later. After they are ok.


The challenge here, though, is that a lot of so-called leaders and organizational cultures don't see it that way. You're here to work, not cry. Take leave time if you're sad. And this is me serving notice to those leaders and companies – you are wrong, and people won’t put up with it any longer. Give people the time and the space to feel what they need to feel. Believe me, your metrics and numbers and all the non-human things you might be prioritizing over people will look better for it!


Now, in this episode, after Saru is overtaken by the Pahvans and Burnham has run off to the antenna, Tyler has to stall Saru to buy her time. He does a great job too. He asks Saru open, leading questions about things he knows he’ll want to talk about. It’s great. Problem is, though, Saru dives in deep and wants to help Tyler out. He tells Saru that he can’t imagine what peace would look like; he can’t imagine letting go of his hate and anger towards the Klingons. So when Saru drops this line, Tyler is all about it. “Understanding requires a common frame of reference” 27:29


Now, it totally backfires, exposing Tyler and Burnham’s plan, but that doesn’t discount the genius and wisdom in what Saru says. Without a common frame of reference, without points of agreement and a shared ability to communicate, you will never achieve understanding.


A shared ability to communicate is similar to having a shared language – or vocabulary. A place we often see a mismatch here is when IT developers meet with management and executives on projects. The developers speak a language based on their skillset and the solution developments they are working on while managers and executives don’t understand their skillsets or how to develop an IT solution, like, the nuts and bolts of it. Add to that that most managers don’t actually understand the work their teams do so, even if they did get the developer’s language, they aren’t able to ask the right questions or explain the correct use cases.


But this can present in smaller, less obvious ways too. Many upper-level managers speak in terms of KPIs or survey results or audit liabilities when most people they work with speak in terms of service delivery or customer service or, really, more hands-on stuff.


And these mismatches often lead to a lack of agreement. I remember managing a movie theatre and two of the important metrics we used at the concession stand were our per cap and CPC, or cost per customer. Basically, how much, on average, did a customer spend at the stand and how much did I pay, in labor costs, to get those customers served. High per cap and low CPC…that was the name of the game. To me, running numbers, those things make perfect sense. But the people working the stand? We told them to upsell and suggestive sell every person, keep their line shorter than 3 people, pop fresh corn and keep the area spotless. Can you see where our points of agreement could mismatch?


In that example, I knew their work pretty well; I would work in the concession stand pretty regularly…keeping that CPC down! So I was able to speak their language and explain the metrics in a way they could understand. We agreed that we would prioritize fast and accurate service and use quick upsell techniques to keep things moving. Ultimately, we agreed on what the ideal customer experience looked like based on the measures we had to hit. It was great!


But, often times, you won’t know the work well enough to do that. So how do you find that shared language, or vocabulary, to find points you can agree on? For Saru, it was simple. Hold a magic Pahvo rock and touch it at the same time. Sadly, we don’t have any of those lying around. But there is some magic you can use. And that magic is one, simple word. Nope! It’s curiosity.


Be curious! Leave your preconceived notions and biases aside and just ask questions. Listen! Use that superpower I’ve mentioned in a few episodes of this podcast – talk to the people you work with! Get to know them. Understand them. Understand how they see their work. And do this by being curious.


And this is the secret to effective conflict resolution. Most negative conflict happens when you think a thing and I think a different thing and neither of us are willing to accept any of what the other person is saying. But if you can find a shared vocabulary, agree on foundational points and be wildly curious, you can hear what the other person is saying in a way where you may find common cause and be able to, maybe not agree with their position, but understand why they feel the way they do. And when you can understand that, now you can have a real conversation.


I’m going to use a very real example. Very real, at least, at the time of this recording, being the better part of a year past the concerted efforts against COVID-19. Facemasks. Without even getting into the ‘you can’t make me do nothing’ stuff that that came out, let’s just look at the early reactions. Some people believed facemasks were micro-dosing people with carbon dioxide, depriving them of oxygen and slowly causing long-term damage to people, especially young, developing people. And then there were people who generally understood how facemasks worked and, while they didn’t enjoy it, they wore their masks in an effort to keep people healthy.


Now, this conflict blew up to a point that we are, at this very moment, still feeling the impacts from it. No one listened to anyone and the situation just escalated. But, imagine, if way back in early 2020, if people could just follow this model. Especially the part about being curious. If they were curious, and listened to each other, they would have realized they agreed on a powerful point – both sides of that argument wanted to be healthy and didn’t want others to get sick. Now, you can talk about that! Instead of arguing about the way a facemask blocks water droplets, or the size of a virus vs the barrier of the mask, they could talk about how to keep people safe and healthy. It sounds so simple but it really works like this! Wow…we would be living in a different world today if people were simply curious instead of aggressive and self-righteous. I’m not kidding here…curiosity is truly magic!


This feels like a good point to shift to talking about peace. The peace that we all need. The peace that many leaders struggle to find. You know the scenario, it’s the one I kicked off the episode with. You are tired. You’re burned out. All you want to do is rest. I mean, travel and sight-seeing would be cool, but just sleeping in for a few days would be amazing! But, you’re so buried you just can’t take that time. Like, how often have you sounded like this? “What I would give for a second of peace” NEAR END-ISH


In the 53rd episode of the Starfleet Leadership Academy, Enterprise Two Days and Two Nights, I went into a lot of detail on how time off is handled in different countries and the importance of taking time off. I talked about how the Center for Economic and Policy Research calls the US the No Vacation Nation because we Americans take less time off than most any other industrialized nation.


In that episode I shared a really cool, easy and effective method to manage your emails to minimize the overload when you come back from your time off. But today, right now, I’m going to talk about the title of this episode, Si vis pacem, para bellum which means, let him who desires peace prepare for war. So let’s talk war!


You taking time off does not stop the work from coming in. So what do you do about that? Well, any good war is fought with a battle plan, so, right out of the gate, I want you to know that, generally speaking, this isn’t deciding to take a month off on Monday and starting that on Tuesday. Nope. You’re going to have to do some work.


First thing you want to do is clear the battlefield. The people that normally give you work, or that you have meetings with…your frequent flyers and contacts…you reach out to them and let them know, ‘hey, from this date to this date I’m going to be out. You need anything from me before then?’


At this point, two things are going to happen. First, you’re going to get the list of important stuff you need to take care of and, second, those people are likely going to stop adding to that list! And if they don’t, you can say, ‘I’m actually going to be out then and I’m working on this thing for you already. Which one do you need before I head out?’


Now that you know the boundaries, and so do the other players, you can start prepping your team for your absence. Be sure they know you will be out. They need to know the status of anything they are waiting on you for. Once they’re ready, you have to prepare yourself. And this might be the most challenging part of your war for peace.


You have to understand the real importance of the tasks you have. Most of them, like the vast majority of them are routine and were covered in your previous prep. Some of your tasks are urgent and maybe like one or two are truly critical. So this is where you rely on the talent you, as a leader, have been developing on your team. The people that can back you up on those urgent and critical tasks need to know that they are on point for them if they come up. Depending on the criticality of those critical tasks, they may need to know how to get a hold you too. Just in case.


Once you’ve completed these things, you’re set. Now I just ran through them in a few minutes. It will take more than that to go through these and you will very likely run into challenges and resistance, but you do no, I repeat DO NOT let those stop you. You work through them and, when the time comes, you log off, or clock out, and you get out of there without looking back. Enjoy your time. Enjoy your peace, and come back ready for anything.


<<Hailing Frequencies>>


Right now, at the time this episode comes out, the social media landscape is kind of a mess. You can still engage with me in the usual places, on Twitter: @ SFLA podcast and most all the social media, @jefftakin Jeff, t as in Torture, Klingon style, a k i n.


But the best way to connect and engage with me is through email. Visit and join the mailing list. Not only will you get a super cool skill builder and performance appraisal template, inspired by Saru, but you’ll get an email from me, every other week, with insights and other cool stuff. Plus, you can just hit reply to those emails and get interact with me and the team here at the Starfleet Leadership Academy.


Computer, what are we going to watch next time….


Oh, fun! We’re going to go back to the Animated Series to a rather infamous episode. The 7th of the first season, The Infinite Vulcan. Yes, this is the one with a 50-foot-tall Mr. Spock. Should be a fun one!


Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!