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Discovery on 3rd Rock from the Sun

How a beloved sitcom character challenges me to learn

In the hit NBC series 3rd Rock from the Sun, a group of aliens pay humans a visit to learn about life on earth. Disguised as homosapiens, the leader of the alien ‘family’ is Dick Solomon, a haughty and bombastic university professor who falls hopelessly in love with a woman who works in his office.

The show expertly mined every shade of color in the rainbow of human experience in its six seasons on the air. Like a newborn, the aliens had a thirst for discovery and fell in love with, well, being human.

Discovery is the reason the character of Dick Solomon resonates with me all these years after watching as a kid. He was so curious about every detail of the world.

In addition to feeling the pangs of love, he navigates his career as a physics professor, floats through the most bizarre places when he dreams for the first time, and has to fashion an entire backstory to dodge an IRS audit. He even dyes his hair and uses hair plugs to fill out his balding head to learn what it feels like to look ten years younger. Dick was never perfect – a requisite trait for any good sitcom character – but his willingness to learn, to wade into uncharted waters is what makes him stand out. 

As a human – I promise I’m no alien! – Dick Solomon serves as an example for me to discover. Too often I find myself stuck in linear ways of thinking, seeing the world through proverbial goggles that blocks out new discovery. How often do we walk the same path, hang out with the same people, stick to comfortable routines? I order the same coffee drink from Starbucks in the morning. I greet the same faces at restaurants and grocery stores and the gym. I drive the same route to work. Every. Single. Day.

Just look at the state of politics. Before a politician even opens their mouth to explain their viewpoint, Americans have preconceived judgments of who they are and what they will say simply because it says democrat or republican next to their name at the bottom of the screen. On Facebook and other social media, our newsfeeds and friends we follow reinforce what we already know because we don’t want to hear a different perspective. It’s no wonder the country is so fiercely divided.

How do we bust out of our bubbles?

When I was nearing the end of college, I remember worrying that I would lose my thirst for learning. College is a time of discovery – both personally and intellectually – because our minds (and hearts) are challenged. We pour through books, stuff our brains with facts and figures and stretch our ideas. And because I was leaving this environment – a place where discovery is encouraged – I thought I would no longer read new authors, talk to others from different places, explore the dark and scary, and even face my greatest fears. It’s easy to live in a bubble and challenging to discover something new. I wanted to slip into the former and disregard the ladder.

But we don’t have to slip into a cocoon of comfort if we don’t let it happen. When I want to tune out the voice challenging my perspective, I recall Dick Solomon. Not once did he say no to discovery. He didn’t because it was his job to learn about the human experience. Maybe that’s what we need to do in this day and age. We need to make it our job to be open to the new, the dark, the different. 

The poet Robert Frost put it best in his classic poem “The Road Not Taken,” in which he writes, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I– I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” I wonder if Dick Solomon read that poem before he arrived on our planet. Because of all the planets in the universe he could have picked to study, he chose his one less traveled by. 

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