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The Psychology of Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation

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on 1 May 2014

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Transcript of The Psychology of Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation

The Psychology of Leslie Knope from
Parks and Recreation

Central Idea
Despite having almost constant anxiety and being addicted to her work as the Deputy Director of the Parks and Recreation Department in Pawnee, Leslie Knope has achieved post-conventional morality, traveled to the top of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, and is intrinsically motivated to work. As a result, she is professionally and personally successful and highly functional.
Leslie endures an extremely physically and mentally taxing daily routine because she goes to abnormal and unhealthy extremes to complete her work goals. Although some may see Leslie as simply a dedicated individual, she exhibits symptoms of work addiction, i.e. the inability to stop working. These symptoms include long hours working, both in and out of office, even when not necessary, losing sleep to engage in work projects (see video 3), obsession with work-related success, and a short term damaging of personal relationships because of work (see video 4). She also seems to drown herself in sweets when faced with anxiety (see video 5). Leslie constantly worries about work to the point that she may have Generalized Anxiety Disorder; however, she does not exhibit enough symptoms and is too functional to make a clear diagnosis of this disorder. Thus, Leslie is psychologically addicted to working because she is so overly anxious when not working to the point that she constantly works. Ultimately, Leslie overworks herself and seems to risk burning out.
Post-Conventional Morality
Leslie is also successful because she has reached the final stage of Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of morality development, achieving the desired post-conventional morality, in which an individual realizes that his/her own perspective may take precedence over society’s view, judging morality based on his/her own moral code. Leslie is no doubt past the stages of pre-conventional morality, in which morality is judged by the direct consequences of an action, and conventional morality, in which morality of actions is judged by comparing them to society's views and expectations. She is in the stage of post-conventional morality because she strictly upholds her own moral code of prioritizing helping others over personal gain. For example, her town of Pawnee hates the neighboring town of Eagleton. When Eagleton goes broke, Leslie passes a bill to absorb Eagleton into Pawnee and lend financial aid to the town. Although most of Pawnee criticizes her for this action, she nevertheless follows through with the action because it is right. Because she has achieved the desired post-conventional morality and does what she believes to be right, Leslie ultimately commands respect from her friends and feels satisfied with herself even though her actions can sometimes negatively affect her political career. Thus, despite her workaholism, which can sometimes be damaging to her relationships, Leslie's post-conventional morality uplifts the quality of her relationships far higher and keeps Leslie optimistic and confident about her work and herself in the face of opposition.
Daniel Pink, a psychologist that studied motivation, says that extrinsic motivation, the desire to perform to gain rewards or avoid punishment, does not work; intrinsic motivation, i.e. the desire to perform effectively for one's own sake in a space with autonomy, mastery, and purpose, is required for success. Leslie is indeed intrinsically motivated. She genuinely enjoys helping others and seeing the happiness of others, demonstrated by her constant gift giving (see video 6). Her job gives her the opportunity to help others, and by gaining experience in her job, she can better help others. Thus, Leslie has autonomy, mastery, and purpose within her work as Deputy Director of the parks department of Pawnee. Furthermore, Leslie has been wanting to work in politics from a young age, so she loves her job because she is fulfilling her childhood dreams. As evidenced by her multitude of pictures of great political women in her office, Leslie sees herself as a representative of women as a whole in politics. She dreams of becoming the first female president some day. Thus, her job in politics has not only the immediate purpose to help others, but a greater purpose to achieve something unique. Because Leslie is intrinsically motivated, she can succeed at her job without burning out or becoming uninterested, despite the fact that she often overworks herself and endures a mentally taxing schedule.
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Leslie Knope is the Deputy Director of the Parks and Recreation Department in Pawnee, Indiana, a mid-level bureaucratic position that she has held for several years. Leslie works extremely hard at her job to the point that she is a "workaholic," i.e. she is addicted to work. She exhibits many of the symptoms of work addiction, including constant insomnia and anxiety. She often goes to abnormal and unhealthy extremes to complete her work-related goals (See video 1). Nevertheless, Leslie is optimistic and ambitious, great at her job and highly functional. She is intelligent, able to come up with quality ideas to forward the goals of her department. Importantly, Leslie is intrinsically motivated. She perpetually upholds a moral code, and she genuinely enjoys working for the Pawnee government and helping others (see video 1). She maintains a strong relationship with family, including her best friend and husband, Ben Wyatt. Her relationships with her friends, who are also her co-workers, are strong as she receives their respect as well as their love (see video 2). Although she has a problem of working too hard, Leslie's morals and intrinsic motivation allow her to be successful.
Finally, Leslie is successful because she has reached the peak of Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow says that to achieve success in the form of self-actualization, the need to develop one's maximum potential, a hierarchy of needs must be met, in which the lower levels must be met before moving to higher levels. Leslie lives in a secure home and has a fairly well-paid job, achieving the first two levels of needs. She has strong friendships with her co-workers and husband, who often seek to help Leslie attain her dreams (see video 7). Thus, Leslie's social needs, the third level, are met. Leslie has also acquired her esteem needs, the fourth level, evident by her unwavering ability to pick herself and confidently move forward with enthusiasm after failure, particularly after she was recalled from her dream job as city council woman. Finally, having attained all the lower levels of needs, Leslie has achieved the final fifth level on Maslow's Hierarchy. Because she believes in her abilities, she has the creativity to solve the problems of her town, and achieve her work goals in the face of adversity. For example, her highly successful harvest festival raises enough revenue to solve her town's debt problems. Because she has met all her needs, she has an innate desire to achieve her maximum potential, constantly putting forth great effort in all her endeavors. This desire attains results in her professional life and a regard for her abilities in her personal life. Ultimately, although she overworks herself, as Maslow would say, she can succeed both professionally and personally because she has acquired all of Maslow's needs.
Leslie is addicted to working, a deep-rooted problem that is a result of how her brain functions; however, her intrinsic motivation, her post-conventional morality, and her acquisition of all of Maslow's needs ultimately offset the detrimental effects of her addiction. In general, while, at the beginning of many Parks and Recreation episodes, Leslie causes trouble due to her overzealous work habits, by the end of almost every episode, Leslie's problems are solved. Despite her "workaholism," Leslie is psychologically strong; therefore, she achieves success. She is great at her job, attaining positive changes for her town through programs and bills, and has numerous resilient personal relationships, in which her friends are willing to go to great lengths to make her feel happy. Overall, Leslie is highly functional and healthy and will continue to grow in a positive direction in the coming years because her psych is sound.
Although things go terribly wrong, Leslie's friends happily agree to take on the responsibilities of managing her campaign for city council woman on top of their regular jobs simply because they want to see Leslie succeed. They are both literally and metaphorically willing to "trek shakily across the ice" with her.
Video 1:
Leslie is over-the-top
Video 6:
Leslie genuinely enjoys seeing the happiness of others
As her anniversary present, Leslie goes above and beyond and gets her husband "the greatest gift he's ever received," the iron throne from Game of Thrones. This gesture is an indication that she truly enjoys seeing others' happiness. She performs similar gift giving with her other friends almost every month.
However, she does demonstrate her genuine love for her job.
Video 2: Leslie's personal relationships are strong
Leslie's positive relationship with her best girl friend, Ann Perkins, is an example of Leslie's one of many stable friendships.
Video 4: Leslie's obsession with work-related matters can hurt her relationships
During a Model UN conference at a local high school sponsored by Leslie's Parks Department to raise interest in government, Leslie gets into a fight with her husband over the petty work-related matter of winning the students over by "winning" Model UN.
Video 3: Leslie loses sleep after unnecessarily pulling an all-nighter to finish her work on the "Pawnee Cares" diabetes telethon
Video 5:
Eating waffles serves as a coping mechanism for Leslie to deal with anxiety
Leslie's best girl friend Ann gives Leslie waffles to help Leslie cope with the anxiety that Ann would produce by telling Leslie that Ann is moving away.
Video 7:
Leslie's friends are willing to help her chase her dreams

Link (in case video does not play): www.youtube.com/watch?v=40Nqzx4Z1FA
Link in case video does not play: www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wpTVMwB9i4
Full transcript