Over the summer break, I do what a lot of writers do. Nothing. I watched five seasons of HBO’s hit”The Wire”. Like any good lit major (and instructor) inspired by good writing, I had to make heads and tails of the show, in relation to the Ivory Tower. Characters in film and lit represent ideas. The conflicts in “The Wire” are symbolic challenges workplace personnel face daily.
It may be why the show remains a huge hit.
“The Wire’s” lesson for college grads:
1. Be yourself. In a new working environment, there’ll be new and mesmerizing people who meet personal definitions of success. Don’t be mesmerized by them. Behind every successful employee is a behavior that may be detrimental to your inner being.
Until the fifth and final season of The Wire, detective Kima (Sonja Sohn) worshipped Jimmy McNulty. But McNulty’s demons were far greater than a trusting Kima could see. By the final season, Kima outed McNulty’s wrongdoings, a clear redemption for a female character who made her way in a predominantly male working environment with an earnest love for her occupation.
2. Urban schools need highly intellectual teachers who have lived full lives and can bring a set of skills outside of academia to the classroom.
Prez lost his cop job after he accidentally shot a plainclothes police officer. Prez was the smartest logistician in his division of undercover wire tappers. His life changed when he left the police force and took a math teacher post overseeing many of the same kids his undercover team had on surveillance. Prez became a good and beloved teacher after he learned ways to incorporate the real world into math concepts. For example, he taught his class statistics by teaching them to shoot craps (roll dice).
3. Intimate relationships are far more fulfilling when partners are intellectually and philosophically compatible. When Lt. Daniels ended his marriage, he began a fulfilling relationship with a prosecuting attorney. In that relationship, Daniels, who also earned his J.D., went on to achieve the dreams he could not with his politically inclined wife.
4. Cut your losses as soon as you can. When your job or career takes a turn that displeases you, entices you to drink and abuse controlled substances, quit. Quite simply, it’s the best for everyone involved. Jimmy McNulty’s driving need to be right, to be a hero, and be respected in a civil servant job drove him over the edge. Sure there’d have been no storyline without Jimmy’s escapades, but in the real world, the Jimmy McNultys are dangerous and rarely get second chances.
5. Don’t burn bridges. Some people are hard to deal with. Face it, most people will be hard to deal with and many will represent ideas and behaviors that make you sick. When it’s time to part ways, do so politely and as diplomatically as possible.
Unlike his drug kingpin uncle, DeAngelo Barksdale could not find peace with his new position in the pen. He lost all hope in the penitentiary and isolated himself from his old life. Don’t isolate coworkers, even when you’re peeved beyond measure. Pretend, play the game and exit diplomatically. You’ll always need people to say and think good things about you.
6. Finally, take time to find out who you are and what you are capable of. Are you an entrepreneur? Are you an employee with a good reputation and excellent opportunities for advancement? Does your boss and company see qualities in you that you weren’t aware of?
If so, run with it. Take advantage of as many opportunities there are to shine, learn and grow. In corporate America, the end result is usually more money and a lot more prestige.
Michael grew fast in the drug dealing world and earned the respect of kingpins early. But in the end, Michael was betrayed and had to branch out on his own. He had been in the business long enough and learned a great deal. When forced, he ventured out to thrive on his own. After years of apprenticeship, Michael exited the game his own boss.
There are many more characters from “The Wire” who were inspirational, inspiring and frightening in their own ways. Omar Little is a permanent reminder that homosexuality and its stigma is not a dilemma of privileged white men.
Bubbles easily represents the college student with bad grades, too many beers, and too many unspeakably lewd parties even after graduation. Ultimately, the character demonstrates acceptance, responsibility, redemption and second chances.
Stringer Bell actually studied business in community college. He represents the American desire for legitimate success and the necessity of research and good navigation particularly in matters of venture capitalism.
1. Be yourself. Kima may have been mesmerized by an ornery but influential coworker. In the end, Kima dug deep, came to terms with her true self and ousted the mesmerizing coworker who, unintentionally, played a big part in leading her astray.
Urban schools need super intelligent teachers
Urban schools need high intellectuals who can integrate real life with academic concepts and theories. Cop turned schoolteacher Prez, taught students statistics using Monopoly dice.
Choose life partners with similar education and philosophical interests
Lt. Daniels’ life and career did not flourish until he began dating another lawyer. With his like minded lawyer partner at his side, random thoughts Daniels reluctantly expressed about life and a career outside the police force materialized.
Cut your losses as soon as you can
Jimmy McNulty’s depression and disappointment with police work led to alcohol and sexual abuse. When a job becomes so overwhelming that bad habits and big secrets make work exciting, it’s time to quit. Quit while you’re ahead, cut your losses and go.
Do not burn bridges
Dissatisfied with his boss and his company’s performance DeAngelo Barksdale completely shut down and isolated himself. His disassociation got him branded as a traitor and killed. The workforce is similar. Be nice to everyone.
Find out who you are
Michael had the savoir faire to succeed early in the dealing business. His was mentored and moved through the ranks quickly. As he learned more about himself, Michael’s destiny was self-employment versus working with others.