This Thanksgiving break, I’ve been re-watching season 1 of “True Detective” starring Matt McConaughey and Woody Harrelson about two detectives’ lifelong journeys to solve a case. I believe season 1 “True Detective” to only be second to “The Wire” as one of God’s gifts to the Earth, with Matt McConaughey as one of the best characters of all time.
But what “True Detective” has reminded me of is this: every person needs a partner. We all have brilliant strengths, as well as Achilles’ Heel weaknesses. And we need partners, whether in the workplace or personal lives
While McConaughey’s character, Rust Cohle, captures our universal imaginations as a brilliant, cerebral, “I don’t care what anyone thinks” kind of person, the truth is that he never could have accomplished his feats without a partner, Woody Harrelson’s Marty Hart.
Marty seems like a foil to Rust. Often a womanizer who seems incapable to feel remorse, as a viewer, I’ve always felt more drawn to Rust than I did Marty. Rust is the motor behind the two’s pursuit of the case. While I won’t spoil much of the show, Rust is the cerebral, get stuff done kind of guy. He is not afraid of pushing anyone’s buttons or crossing anyone’s boundaries. He doesn’t care whose feelings he hurts. He is singularly obsessed with solving the case and pursuing his own form of righteousness. Rust’s accomplishments help Marty advance his career in Homicide, as Rust doesn’t care about climbing the career ladder, whereas Marty does.
Marty, however, is able to cover for Rust when Rust is charismatically unable to look out for himself. Marty is a people person first and foremost, and gets along with people in homicide of the Louisiana State Police Department much more than Rust. No matter Rust’s social transgressions and absolute disregard for other people’s feelings, Marty is able to smooth things over and talk to people, as well as lend an extra hand and safety net to whatever Rust’s extremely risky crusades tend to be. Marty is respectful of cultural norms and others’ religious beliefs, while Rust is an nihilistic atheist with no regard for other people’s beliefs.
Marty and Rust complement each other, and keep them responsible and accountable. They look out for each other when their lives are at risk. They keep a reminder to all of us that every Rust needs a Marty, but every Marty also needs a Rust.
It’s a constant reminder that in every aspect of our lives, professional, social, romantic, we need partners that can complement our strengths and weaknesses. We cannot do career, life, or relationships alone.
Perhaps where this is most apparent to me is in my professional life. My co-teacher teaches my kids math and science while I teach them English and social studies. We differ in a lot of personal beliefs. He is a staunch atheist. I am a devout Christian. I have seen him shake his head at the mere mention of God, while I am a daily Bible reader and a regular church-goer and congregation member. I don’t agree with almost everything he has to mention about his personal convictions or religious beliefs.
Despite our deep religious differences, however, we work extremely well together, teaching the same students, filling out the same forms, and collaborating on almost every work-related task. He is a seasoned veteran of the inner-city teaching world, and counsels me on realities, expectations, and recommended practices to get through, survive, and thrive. I am a fresh newcomer, bringing with me a lot of zeal, energy, and impressionistic idealism to the job and the kids.
While it might seem like we come from two completely different and incompatible schools of thought, we complement each other extremely well. My first year of teaching has gone relatively smoothly, compared to many horror stories I hear from friends as well as common trends in the field.
And I attribute this mainly to having a very good teaching partner, someone who is almost a coach. We cover each other’s kids by default when the other one of us has to attend to professional responsibilities.
Every Marty needs a Rust. Every Rust needs a Marty. Watching “True Detective” again, it’s very clear that Rust and Marty don’t always like each other. But they respect each other and trust each other with their lives.
I have a girlfriend who is clean, organized, and a careful planner. I very much am not. A simple glimpse at my room would horrify many adults, and the fact that I don’t plan anything. I live my life vicariously and spontaneously. Yet we are terrific complements and attractions for each other. My basic cleanliness and lack of planning is something that my girlfriend has helped me with, and I have helped my girlfriend chill out a bit.
With my friends, it is a similar sense of Marty-Rust relationship. Except we always like each other. We’re not bound by an obligation to spend time with each other, as is most personal relationships in my life. No matter what Marty and Rust’s personal animosity towards each other is, the truth is they always had a strong relationship, especially if they didn’t even question putting their lives at risk for each other.
The life lesson from “True Detective” is that every Marty needs a Rust, and every Rust needs a Marty. You need someone that can complement your strengths and weaknesses, someone you can build strong relationships with.
You always need a partner.