Don’t worry. This post isn’t about politics. Or Indiana. Or hunting. Or turf & turf. It’s about disposition. I identify with Parks and Recreation’s adorable curmudgeon Ron Swanson in disposition.
I’m not as stolid as Ron Swanson. I smile much more often. I express emotion with a great deal more vivacity, and I do believe that drunk driving laws are important. But like Swanson, I don’t fake enthusiasm or optimism for the sake of others who have trouble with the idea that we don’t live in a world where we’re all the same.
As a society, we tell ourselves that we value authenticity. Yet as you progress through adulthood, you quickly learn that faking an outlook that doesn’t mirror who you are will get you a lot further in life. This is why I’m jealous of Swanson. Although he has no desire to feign an attitude of infectious jubilation, his personality is accepted by those around him. In his magical NBC universe, no one pressures him to plaster a grin on his face at all times or punishes him for not doing so.
Unfortunately, outside the sitcom world, most of us with Swanson’s disposition don’t fair as well.
In the real world, we’re asked to be walking cheerleaders of sunshine who project a sanguine facade for the sake of others. We’re expected to grin from ear to ear to put coworkers “at ease” or to send a signal that deems us “approachable.”
The funny thing is most of the Ron Swansons of the world love to laugh, smile and joke around, but only with people who aren’t disingenuous. We shun the superficial because we find them untrustworthy. If a person can’t show their emotions honestly, then we wonder what else are they hiding?
Despite popular opinion, we’re open to people of every shape, size and color. We’re no more angry or upset than the average person. We’re silly, personable and ambitious in our own way, but what we’re not are frauds. And every time someone tries to insist that we should be more like Leslie Knope in our temperament, they’re asking us to be just that: frauds.
Don’t get me wrong. I like Leslie Knope. She’s resilient, focused and hard-working. She views every obstacle as a welcome challenge to overcome. But as a part of this fantasy sitcom world, Leslie too is authentic. She’s being her true self, and she never attempts to force Ron or April or Tom or Donna to be something they’re not. As a matter of fact, I wish the world were filled with a few more genuine Leslie Knopes.
But in the meantime, what are the real life Ron Swansons of the world to do?
Rise to the Top
The first thing to do is search out a career where your lack of artificial exuberance won’t be held against you. It may take some time to find such a position, but I’m told they’re out there. If you’re in a job where you’re surrounded by SpongeBobs and Patricks, life is going to be difficult. Ron Swanson answers to Chris Traeger, but he is the head of his own department. Swanson is free to carry himself how he pleases without worrying if it’s going to cost him a raise or harsh criticism from his colleagues.
Let Your Actions Speak for You
Second, express your emotions through actions. People are always going to accuse you of being a sourpuss if you don’t jump up and down with every pregnancy or wedding announcement. The best way to show you’re not detached from your surroundings is with small acts of kindness.
Don’t hesitate to buy donuts for the office, personalize a heartfelt message in a birthday card making the rounds, or offer to take some work off your coworkers’ hands when they’re swamped. It won’t stop them from treating you like you’re the meanest kid in the schoolyard because you don’t skip in through the door everyday, but it might just make them feel like jerks for assuming you don’t have feelings.
Lastly, remember that although you may be accepting of diversity and authenticity, others may not. Sure, they’ll never admit that they prefer to live in a world where everyone looks and behaves exactly like them, but it doesn’t mean they don’t think that way. It takes a certain level of confidence to know who you are and say “I like this. I think I’ll keep it.” Unfortunately, not everyone is that lucky.
Perhaps when they grow older, they’ll become more tolerant of a variety of personalities, viewpoints and lifestyles. In the meantime, all we can do is hope that the Leslie Knopes’ of the world realize that not every Ron Swanson is grumpy, caustic or unfriendly. Just as most Swansons in the world recognize that not every Knope is a vapid, phony trying to cover up his or her neediness with a mask of glee.
It’s not easy being Ron Swanson in a Leslie Knope world, but we Ron Swansons have to forge ahead and try to navigate business waters as painlessly as possible. If we remember to focus on our goals, practice small acts of kindness, and embrace tolerance of those who may be less tolerant of us, we can build our own environment of acceptance and it won’t be a sitcom fantasy at all.
Whom do you relate to the most on Parks and Recreation?
How do you cope with personality clashes in business (full time or freelance)?