Are You A Leslie or Garry from Parks & Recreation?
At dinner the other night, my husband and I returned to our age old debate: is it better to be a Leslie or a Garry?
For those not familiar, Leslie Knope and Garry Gergich are characters from Parks & Recreation, a comedy series that ran for seven series. Leslie Knope is arguably the main character of the ensemble cast, and the program follows her life in Pawnee, Indiana as she aspires to rise from the Assistant Director of Parks & Rec to town council and eventually onward to the highest political office she can obtain. She’s somewhere in her 30s and passionate about everything she does, especially her friends and loved ones.
On the other hand, Garry (sometimes known as Jerry or Larry) is an employee of Leslie’s in the Parks & Rec department and has little aspiration to climb the ladder of success. Sixty-something Garry frequently mentions that he’s counting down to retirement and is more than happy to do clerical work because his true passion is being at home with his beautiful wife and daughters. For a variety of reasons, mostly related to him being a mechanic of the sitcom and the butt of numerous jokes, his life on the show is positioned to be the inferior option to that of Leslie.
At the beginning of our relationship, my husband, Bryan, and I started watching the sitcom, and it’s been a cornerstone of our relationship ever since. We’ve happily quoted lines from the show and talked about the characters as if they were our friends. I constantly told people that I was a Leslie and that she was my spirit animal. People laughed at mine and Leslie’s shared inability to relax and love of waffles. Each time I said this, I was quietly telling the world to watch out, that I was on my way and was capable of achieving more than they could possibly imagine, just like Leslie.
Bryan has always said he identified most with Garry, which horrified me—why would he want to be the character everyone makes fun of and only does clerical work? My Leslie-heart dropped. How could someone I knew to be brilliant and capable of so much want to settle for so little?
We’ve returned to this debate multiple times throughout the years, continuously coming to a stalemate. That is until the other night at dinner when I was stressed out after another long week and we went through the pros and cons of each character.
Changing the world
Never completely satisfied
Frequently stressed to the inability to function
Deals with hatred from constituents
Lower stress levels
Time to pursue hobbies and passions
Enjoys simple pleasures
Hasn’t advanced far in life
Hasn’t made a large impact on world
Working for retirement
When coming up with this list, we chose not to include Garry’s clumsiness or the way his coworkers treat him. In one episode, Garry showcases that is clumsiness is a ruse and a product of the office environment. Additionally, the things that other characters make fun of him for (e.g., his clumsiness and flatulence) aren’t part of what makes up who he is as a person and his intrinsic satisfaction
The more I looked at Garry’s pros list, the more I realized that what drives him in life is very close to what I’m aiming for these days, but his cons list is exactly what I fear. What if I never get far in life or what if I don’t make a large impact on the world like I always imagined?
But, on the other hand, Leslie’s list sounds exhausting. I don’t know where I would find the energy to create that much change, let alone put myself in the limelight enough to be vilified and hated. I’ll leave that to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a woman close in age to me who is making the kind of waves Leslie would dream of.
Why Not Both?
The more Bryan and I discussed this list the more I realized that Leslie and Garry share key traits, mainly compassion and loving relationships. Both people love their families and friends dearly, treating them with exceptional kindness. I think that while it’s fine to try to identify with Garry and Leslie in life, the real benefit of these characters is learning lessons from their experiences (as is the heart of any quality television show), and the biggest lesson we can learn is how to practice kindness.
Leslie is the queen of coming up with holidays to celebrate special moments in her relationship with her loved ones. While we don’t want to get to the point of stressing friends out like Leslie did, we can be inspired by her to take more time to celebrate our friendships. As for Garry, one of the most poignant moments in the show for Bryan was when Leslie came to breakfast at the Gergich household and family was singing their breakfast song and enjoying their time together. It was purely wholesome and illustrated the joy Garry got out of his time with his family.
So perhaps this is a case of both, not either/or. We can learn from both characters and see that they’re able to find true happiness in their fictional lives from the people they surround themselves with, not necessarily the accomplishments they complete.