Lesson 130: Bearer of bad news
TV Series: Star Trek - The Next Generation
Season/Episode: 7/10 ('Inheritance')


An elderly female scientist shows up on the Enterprise claiming she was the wife of the scientist who built Data, the android, and thereby, is in essence Data's mother.

Data soon learns that even though she truly believes she was the human wife of his human creator scientist, she is in reality a more sophisticated android, with emotional capabilities and built by the same scientist to replace his real human wife who had died.

Data then faces the dilemma of whether or not to tell her the truth about her existence - that she is not human, but an android.

In reviewing the matter with Capt. Picard and Counselor Troi, both of them give Data essentially the same advice - that it is far better for her to find out the truth from the one she considers and loves as her own son, than to find out from someone else, perhaps even a stranger.


After we have carefully weighed the benefits of relating bad news to family members, loved ones and friends and have arrived at the conclusion that the news needs to be told, the question of whether or not to relate information ourselves is really not that difficult an issue.

We first need to ensure that hearing the bad news will not cause any irreparable permanent physical or emotional harm to the recipient, such as those who might be suffering from weak hearts or unstable mental faculties.

Even for those with strong hearts and minds, the shock of bad news can invariably result in anguish, tears, and outpouring of a variety of unpredictable emotions.

While we all find it extremely difficult to be the bearer of bad news and to be the cause of such emotional distress in those about whom we care, the one major factor we really need to consider is how the news will be received if it is told by someone else.

The shock of learning the bad news from someone else will be that much more compounded when the recipient figures out that we had withheld the information from them ourselves.

Our complicity in not relating the information first will raise doubts in the recipient at the core level of our relationships. Fundamental questions about the loss of trust, caring, honesty and believing in each other can begin to dismantle the relationship, just because we failed to tell the bad news personally.

So, the answer appears obvious, better to hear from us directly than from someone else.

Relating the information ourselves becomes an even more exigent matter if the bad news in some way involves us directly and if we may in some way be held culpable within the bad news event.

Our reluctance to tell this type of bad news personally is rooted in our fear of negative repercussions and losing face.

It is just sheer cowardice that makes us rationalize that it is safer to not expose the matter and rely on the hope that the information never gets out. The information always does get exposed eventually, and the resulting consequences are always extremely painful for all involved.

So, here again, better to be up front first, accept our penalties and try to maintain any shred of our remaining integrity and dignity, than to shirk our responsibilities and hide from the truth.

Data's highly sophisticated positronic based logic is really not required here to arrive at these proper conclusions.

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