Another year is winding down and once again the holiday season is officially upon us! All around the world menorahs and kinaras are dusted off, halls are decked, days grow shorter, and elves inhabit shelves. ‘Tis the season for family traditions, cyber Mondays, and those feel-good movies we love to hate.
The holidays are also an opportunity — or maybe just the excuse we need — to step out of our daily routines, open our hearts to those in need, and think about ways to better ourselves in the coming year. We finally hit the pause button on our busy lives and stop to count our blessings, resolving to make a greater impact on our neighbors and the world at large.
For many, this more altruistic and less commercial side of the holiday season is ultimately what matters most. As the leftovers run out and the gifting high wears off, the lasting impact of these resolutions can create positive ripples of change and hope for everyone involved. Research shows that when you volunteer or give to charities you may be less prone to stress and depression, more likely to excel in social situations, and more physically and mentally active.
But how do you know which charitable opportunity is right for you? In this noisy internet world of near-limitless options, it can be difficult to clearly identify what makes us tick on a personal level.
Thus, we’ve compiled a list of Trek episodes that will get you thinking, tug at your heartstrings, and help you clarify what cause most resonates with you. To find your cause, watch or rewatch these episodes and rank them against each other based on your feelings about the issues raised in that episode. There are no right or wrong answers — this is your personal list!
Once you’ve finished, look at the episodes that top your list and search for ways you can get involved with the issues they explored: volunteer your time, provide your professional skills pro bono, or give some much-needed cash to an organization promoting your ideals. Donating in someone else’s name can also be a thoughtful holiday gift for that friend or family member that already “has everything.”
Whether you act locally or globally, there’s a way for you to make a difference. And remember — all volunteering and giving is important, big or small.
Who knows? You may just find your calling!
If you love Discovery's “Choose Your Pain,” you might be passionate about animal rights
Like most Discovery episodes, this one has a lot going on, including the introduction of Shazad Latif’s character, Ash Tyler, and Rainn Wilson assuming the role of infamous Original Series scoundrel, Harry Mudd. But it’s the ethical dilemma surrounding the treatment of Ripper, the crew’s indispensable tardigrade helper, that really punctuates this story and makes you think about the complex and ever-changing relationship between humans and animals, and the needs of one vs. the rights of the other.
If you love Enterprise's “Demons” and “Terra Prime,” you might be passionate about combating hatred and racism
In what are widely considered to be two of the best episodes of the series, Starfleet battles a terrorist group intent on destroying everything that Archer and the crew have worked to achieve throughout their mission. Peter Weller gives a cold and hauntingly realistic portrayal of xenophobia and racism that underscores an important and disturbing message that is all too familiar throughout history.
If you love Voyager's “Extreme Risk,” you might be passionate about mental health
Tom and the crew find themselves in a race against time to build a better shuttlecraft (enter the Delta Flyer!) in order to foil the galaxy’s worst polluters, the Malon. But the biggest conflict in this episode is an internal one, as B’Elanna struggles with grief and depression after the loss of her old friends. It’s the Voyager crew at its familial best, tackling the difficult discussions that change and save lives.
If you love Deep Space Nine's “Family Business,” you might be passionate about ending sexism
After all these heavy episodes, it may be a good time for a refreshing change of pace. With a perfect mix of comedy and drama, this Ferengi-focused episode will make you cringe, laugh, and cry, perhaps all at the same time! It will also make you think about society’s attitudes towards women in the workplace and at home. To top it all off, there may be a lesson in there about families, and how differences of opinion don’t necessarily have to tear them apart.
If you love The Next Generation's “Force of Nature,” you might be passionate about stopping climate change
This episode contains what is likely the longest series of cat-related jokes in all of Star Trek history, so it’s worth checking it out just for that. But it really makes this list because it focuses on one of the most discussed topics in the world today: the environment. In a prescient tale that may be even more relevant now than when it premiered, two siblings who have devoted their lives to saving their planet attempt to change the minds of, well, just about everyone else in the universe.
If you love The Next Generation's “Hero Worship,” you might be passionate about adoption
Who among us hasn’t wanted to be like Data at some point or another? Well, in this episode, a young boy named Timothy gets to do just that, but in less than ideal circumstances. Both sad and heartwarming, the relationship that develops between the orphaned Timothy and his new android companion shows just how important and life-changing it can be to mentor, foster, or adopt a child.
If you love Deep Space Nine's “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” then you might be passionate about veterans’ health
DS9 brought us an ensemble cast unlike anything previously seen in the Trek universe, and this episode really shows off the depth of storytelling that could be accomplished with so many unusual and lovable characters. In a memorable performance from the late Aron Eisenberg, we see Nog’s complicated struggle to come to terms with his wartime experiences, his PTSD, and the difficulties of returning to his former life. And Vic Fontaine shows us just how important a friend can be in a time of need, even when that friend is only photons and force fields… or is he?
If you love Voyager's “Nemesis,” you might be passionate about ending hate speech
Though maybe not as famous to all Star Trek fans as other classic episodes on this list, “Nemesis” touches on some major issues, including the dangers of hate speech, unchecked misinformation, and propaganda. And it features one of the best plot twists in the entire franchise.
If you love Deep Space Nine's “Past Tense, Part I and II,” then you might be passionate about the housing crisis
Will the real Gabriel Bell please stand up? In a classic time-traveling conundrum, Sisko and the crew get rerouted to 21st century Earth, and boy, does it have some problems! Our own version of 21st century America sees over half a million people remain unhoused each day. The epidemic particularly striking those with mental illnesses and LGBTQ youth. Viewers of “Past Tense” may note that its tackling of serious everyday issues like unemployment, poverty, and homelessness, feels a little too much like real life. But, that’s exactly what was intended.
If you love The Next Generation's “Sarek,” then you might be passionate about elder care
There is at least one thing that all people in every corner of the world have in common: we are all growing older every day. For many, this can be a difficult aspect of life, especially when it is accompanied by illness, memory loss, or dementia. Featuring raw and beautiful performances by Sir Patrick Stewart and Mark Lenard (as Spock’s father, Sarek) this episode challenges us to remember that aging does not make us less human or less deserving of care and respect. Perhaps it is just the opposite.
If you love The Original Series' “The Cloud Minders”, then you might be passionate about labor unions
The first thing you need to know is that Lando Calrissian is nowhere to be found-- this is a different cloud city, and it’s got enough problems even without the Empire lurking around! While things may seem idyllic at the outset, it quickly becomes apparent that this planet struggles with some deadly serious labor issues and a caste system that only seems fair if you’re the one up in the clouds.
Mark Berkins (he/him) is a consultant and writer living in Land O’ Lakes, Florida, which (to answer the question that just came to your mind) is NOT where the butter comes from. He loves his wife, Star Trek, traveling, and sleeping--usually in that order--and you can follow him on his almost completely unused Twitter account at @markberkins.