The Prophetic Voice of Leslie Knope

What 'Parks and Rec' teaches us about subsidiarity and loving place.

By Published on February 17, 2015

In the midst of its great comedy, the Emmy-nominated NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation offers a prophetic voice that urges us to consider again what it might look like to be peacemakers and culture-shapers. In a society marked by cynicism, abstraction, and hyper-mobility, Leslie Knope acts with genuine passion (even to the point where it’s a little awkward) and seeks the common good in concrete, small ways. She stays put and loves her community against all odds. Truth be told, binge-watching Parks and Rec (now in its final season) probably, on some level, prompted me to attend my neighborhood association’s monthly meeting for the first time.

In Catholic social thought, there’s a concept called subsidiarity, which suggests that political decisions should be made and implemented at the smallest, least centralized level possible. Based on the idea that we make wiser community decisions when we know the names, faces, and stories of those whom we live among and serve, subsidiarity reminds us to reject abstraction and remain as “human-scaled” and “person-centered” as possible.

In short, we can best serve a place if driven by love, and love must be personal and small enough to keep its feet on the ground. Leslie Knope’s most profound political motivation is love — love for a people and a place. She finds joy in battling raccoons and cleaning up rivers. And her joy is contagious — her co-workers (even the most cynical among them), her town, and we who are watching can’t help but be swept up in it.

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