Reason to Knope: how character conversion might transform America

How American whimsy and binders full of inspiring women might lead us to the Beloved Country…

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There are a lot of coping mechanisms we fellow Americans have employed to get us through this political season. Facebook rants. FiveThirtyEight. SNL episodes. New York Times Op-eds. Hashtags. Drinking games.

I have partaken in a few (read all) of these strategies with varying success. I have decided it’s time for a change. A cleanse. To let go of my coping mechanisms and claim instead my KNOPE-ing MECHANISMS!

So I’m going for KNOPE.

Leslie Knope.

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If you have not yet encountered the television wonder of Parks and Recreation or its protagonist Leslie Knope, frankly, I don’t know whether to be mad or jealous. Mad because where have you been? More importantly, how have you survived this political season without Parks and Rec re-runs or Leslie Knope (and cast) memes and gifs to get you through?

Jealous, because if you give yourself over to the six seasons of Parks and Rec that await you on Netflix, you will be revived, renewed, and ready to once again believe in the American Dream. Your patriotic soul will be exfoliated.

This year for Halloween, for the election, for America, I am becoming Leslie F-ing. Knope.

(I wrote the actual “F-bomb” then deleted it because I think she would go with “F-ing” given her long term goals for public office.)

Last year I came to two (initially) grudging (eventually) proud realizations about myself.

These moments of epiphany came around the same time. The first one was inspired by my colleague Andy asking me during a field trip… “Do you identify strongly with Leslie Knope?”

I gasped and grabbed his arm…

“Do YOU identify me with Leslie Knope?” I asked with eager (read, overwhelming) anticipation.

“Umm…well that all depends…I guess some might see her as a little naïve.”

If by naïve you mean hopefully exuberant as she fearlessly charges into the world with blinders on to the peril to herself or others but equipped with a bastion of binders to protect her…I guess I can see that.

It was also around this time ANOTHER colleague accused me of believing in unicorns in the midst of a professional development. (And no. She didn’t mean it in a nice way.)

Rather than take offense at either mythical association, I realized there is power in owning our magic. After all, Leslie AND unicorns (perhaps not coincidentally) have experienced a revival of believers amidst these darkened days of American Mordor. The world can use all the benevolent mythical characters we can imagine, particularly now.

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So I’ve been plotting my binders. Planning my Pawnee city council stump speech. Purchasing my waffle laden iPhone cover.

Confession. Knope’s not cheap.

Part of this process has been Amazon intensive. Between “I voted” stickers, a blonde wig, a Ron Swanson t-shirt, I had to PROMISE my husband I was done accessorizing for America. The final straw came when he looked over at me annotating during an episode of Luke Cage and asked what I was doing. I said “homework” and held up a copy of Pawnee: the Greatest Town in America.

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He closed his eyes, shook his head, and said, “I thought you were doing real work.”

When I claimed to be channeling the spirit of Knope for the greater good, he said simply.

“No.”

(He meant, “KNOPE.”)

It’s time for him, and ALL of us to say “yep” to Knope.

This is not just about a costume. This is about a conversion. Conceived amidst the RNC convention, this has become a symbol of defiant hope in America’s Super Ego rather than her Id. It is a way to channel all of my well-informed optimism and share it with my family, friends, students, and neighbors who are frightened of the future.

Leslie Knope would not let me go gentle into that future. She was like,

“Nah, girl. Not gonna happen. Not if you and I have anything to do with it.”

And I was like,

“Please stroke my hair, make me a throw-pillow with my face on it, and call me a poetic, noble land mermaid.”

And she was like,

“Only if we don’t tell Anne Perkins.”

Deal! Saddle up your unicorn, Leslie!

Then, something ELSE occurred to me. I realized that the power of this journey could be collective. Open to all. Super Socialist. Like Obama-care except less mired in political partisanship. After all, Leslie rarely goes anywhere or does anything without the efforts of her Pawnee people.

Parks and Recreation is an infinite resource! There’s enough Knope to go around! Our entire COUNTRY could be Knopeful!

So, if you’ve been feeling a little glum due to a combination of the demise of the American ideal and because you don’t have a Halloween costume yet, get your hands on a red hat (but not THAT red hat), just a plain one you can plaster with random buttons (but preferably “New Kids on the Block” memorabilia) pull out a pantsuit (or a pair of overalls if you want to get “folksy”) and you’re ready to hit the pavement and do some canvasing (err… trick or treating).

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Don’t feel comfortable in a blond wig? I feel you. Consider becoming another amazing human on Parks and Recreation. There’s literally millions of quizzes to determine “Which Parks and Rec Character are you?” (Full disclosure. I have taken all of them sometimes more than once until they confirm what I already know. I’m born to be Knope).

Love bacon and woodworking but hate the government? Opt for Ron Swanson.  Want to make sardonic remarks all night long? April Ludgate’s for you.  Over-weight but endearing and married to a hotty? Jerry/Gary Gergich awaits. Have guitar and gift for ridiculous ad-libbed songs? Andy Dwyer is YOUR spirit animal.  “Treat-yo-self” to fine threads and friends with Donna Meagle or Tom Haverford as you live-Tweet the night away. Just want to be friends? We’ve always go room for one more Anne Perkins. Distracted by my earlier inappropriate use of “literally”? Chris Traeger it is!

The point is, America, there is room for ALL of us in this country and in this effort to make Halloween GREAT again. We all have a role to play. There is reason to Knope and reason to Hope and it begins with a combination of righteous whimsy and an Amazon account.

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Saddle up those unicorns! Summon your land mermaids! We are Leslie Knope! The beloved country is waiting, America, and we’re going to need some binders!

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P.S. In honor of Leslie, #womancrushwedesday , binders, the final #debate, and my BIRTHDAY, October 19th I will be live tweeting the unfolding of this “Binder of Inspiring Women” during the #debate – Embrace the Binder! Nominate women for inclusion who have given you reason to hope! @whimsagogy on Twitter and Instagram

Underwater Mountain Movers: What we can learn about leadership through ocean floor topography

Tidal waves and tsunamis shape the world even though they originate in deep unseen spaces.

Today I had the delight of sitting in meaningful and lingering conversation with two very different leaders.

One is running for office in Baltimore. The other is cozied in a corner office in Annapolis. Both are committed to education, empowerment of young people, and positive community transformation. But one will try to move mountains in the politically charged atmosphere of Baltimore governance, the other will quietly create continental drift in a Range on the ocean floor. One will be a household name. The other you would likely never know even if you were in a room with her.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about where we (read I) should stand in order to leverage change. Today I was reminded that we can be catalysts for change in both spaces of high visibility and low visibility. That the quality and impact of societal and system transformations are not necessarily proportional to how visible their architects are.

You don’t have to see the catalyst to see the effect.

Today I saw a quiet leader for the first time.

I don’t mean I had never seen this person before.

I don’t mean that I had never seen a quiet leader before.

I mean I genuinely SAW a person I’ve known for years for who they truly are and the power they actually wield.

You’d never know it if you met her for the first time. She’s a listener. Self-deprecating. Waits a long time before she offers her own thoughts. Affirms those around her. Works tirelessly behind the scenes. Quietly accrues trust from all directions.

She’s an Ocean Bottom Mountain mover. You see a rogue wave, wonder at its passing, and then let it slip your mind as it moves beyond the horizon. All the while, under the radar, she has re-shaped the landscape in ways that will affect the currents for years to come.

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A popular aphorism that may have been said by Harry Truman, Eleanor Roosevelt, or some other wise sage goes something like, “There’s no end to the good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

If I see a success or transformation I know I had a hand in facilitating, do I need to claim credit? Why? What does the effect lose by my calling dibs? What do I lose in the present or the future if people don’t know my involvement?

These questions will be my companions keeping me honest and self-auditing as I myself attempt to work towards the greater good.

Today I realized someone I mistook for a starfish has been a Titan all along. I sat during and after the meeting humbled by this realization. Grateful to have finally glimpsed the long reach of this gentle and benevolent entity. Honored to observe the secrets of her subtle yet persistent influence.

Tidal waves and tsunamis shape the world even though they originate in deep unseen spaces. They may not always get the credit, but we are forever changed by their impact.