Heroes of “The Wire”

shakimagreggs-1.jpgLast night on the penultimate episode of HBO’s “The Wire” Kima Greggs showed the kind of heroism that we need more of in this world.  If you didn’t see the episode and are planning on doing so, read this afterwards.

Faced with a massively unethical act perpetrated by two of her closest work friends, she had to decide whether or not to report it.  On one hand she knew the good the act had potentially done.  On the other she knew that it was wrong and that many people stood to be hurt by it.

I’m going to try to boil down the situation into one paragraph, but that may be impossible due to how deep this show is.  McNulty was frustrated by the lack of funding the police had to follow up a set of bodies that had been found in Baltimore.  He knew who was behind the murders so he hatched a scheme to create a fictional serial killer to attract funding that could be diverted to the murder cases.  His closest friend, Bunk, refused to be involved.  A former partner, Lester, was eager to join in and jumped in with both feet.  Kima, another partner and friend, also refused to be involved and showed disgust.

McNulty’s situation has the three typical responses to evil-doing.

  1. The Bystander.  Bunk knows something bad is happening but he does nothing.
  2. The Contributor.  Lester knows it is wrong, but joins in regardless.
  3. The Hero.  Kima knows that she risks being ostracized by her coworkers, by the entire force, and by her friends.  She stands up to oppose it anyway.

Consider these three roles in bullying.  Bullying happens in the school yard, the home, and the workplace.

  1. The Bystander watches the bullying happening, giving the bully the audience s/he requires.
  2. The Contributor is happy to help the bully in doling out abuse, usually standing slightly behind the bully.
  3. The Hero stands up to the bully and says there is no room for such behaviour.  The Hero risks being hurt by the bully or losing friends, but does it anyway.

It is these three types that we need to re-balance.  There’s little we can do to alter the behaviour of the contributors.  However, we can convert the bystanders to heroes by improving their heroic imagination.  As the ratio of Heroes to Bystanders moves to favour the Heroes, the evil-doers will find it more and more difficult to operate.

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4 Responses to Heroes of “The Wire”

  1. Michaelangelo McCullar March 3, 2008 at 4:48 pm #

    I think categorizing McNulty as a bully is really simplifying the issue. It’s examining the character in a vacuum without consideration of the issues that led him to make such an Quixotic, doomed choice.

  2. Matt Langdon March 3, 2008 at 4:52 pm #

    I wasn’t trying to compare McNulty to a bully – just the ways people react to bad situations. McNulty’s decision is worthy of a whole series of posts, I was trying to observe the reactions of people to his decision.

  3. Beth March 4, 2008 at 4:42 pm #

    I really appreciate your look at this situation in terms of Bystander, Contributer, and Hero. I think that this is a good jumping off point when it comes to looking at ourselves and our actions/reactions in a lot of different situations.

    It’s all a part of developing that ethical framework, which really is the backbone of a healthy hero.

    Thanks, Matt!

  4. Matt Langdon March 4, 2008 at 4:47 pm #

    Thanks Beth. This post got picked up by a bullying message group too. I hope people start speaking up when they see bullying anywhere…