Lessons from Parks and Recreation: Moving from Pawnee to Eagleton
“Is the Eagleton side really that much better than the Pawnee side?”
“To be fair, yea.”
Parks and Recreation is a show about the fictional small town of Pawnee, Indiana. In the episode “Eagleton,” we are introduced to a conflict between the main character, Leslie Knope, and her nemesis in the neighboring town of Eagleton, Lindsay Carlisle Shay. Lindsay organized the construction of a fence dividing a park that connects the two towns in order to keep the scrappy Pawnee children off of the Eagleton side; this causes an uproar in the Pawnee Parks Department.
In episode 4 of Small Town Expats, Daniel and I told stories from our own life about times when we were more like Eagletonians than Pawneeans. Like Lindsay Carlisle Shay, we focused on how our lives were better than someone else’s, but rarely thought about how we might improve our lives by challenging our circumstances. This hurt us in two ways: first, because we couldn’t relate to people who were different from us, and second, because we resisted change that offered to improve our lives.
It’s understandable for people to feel left behind when you move up and out
Leslie Knope isn’t just angry about the fence. She hates Lindsay because Lindsay used to work with her in Pawnee, and then “sold out” by taking a better-paying job in Eagleton. It’s understandable that Leslie felt betrayed by Lindsay, as many family members and friends might when you move far away from home. From her perspective, Lindsay rejected Pawnee, rejected Leslie, and basically spat on all of the work they’d done for the Parks and Recreation department there. When you move far away from home, it’s common for some family or friends to sometimes feel that they are no longer a priority in your life.
Entering new life phases pushes us to adapt to new surroundings
On the other hand, moving from Pawnee to Eagleton must have been difficult for Lindsay Carlisle Shay. Being from Pawnee, the Eagletonians would have assumed she was dumb, dirty, ignorant, etc. She also had no experience navigating a place where the culture is centered more on money and prestige rather than people and community. Her determination clearly paid off, but at the expense of her friends in Pawnee. I doubt that fact bothered Lindsay until her old colleagues decided to push back. As the episode plays out, she begins to realize that when she left Pawnee, she might have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.
Adapting is not the same as running away from your past
Lindsay’s mistake was in trying to live as though Pawnee was beneath her, even though she was from Pawnee. She grew up in Pawnee, made friends there, and created countless memories. Nonetheless, when she first moved to Eagleton, it was probably much easier for her to fit in by acting like an Eagletonian and pretending that Pawnee was an accident of the past. The problem there is that Lindsay was always running away from something, even when she thought she was achieving great things. She was not comfortable with who she was and where she came from, so she built a life that was wrong for her, but did not realize it until years later. For many people, that realization comes too late to do much to change it. Thankfully, once she recognizes that Pawnee is full of good people and her past is nothing to be ashamed of, things get better for people in both towns.
If you identify too much with your current circumstances, any change is devastating
Even though it seems intimidating, anyone can make the move from Pawnee to Eagleton (or vice versa). It takes adjustment, but is well worth the effort for many of us. But with the transition comes the temptation to reject where we came from and jump head-first into our “new life.” The trouble is that when we define ourselves too much by our surroundings, our lives become reflections of the outside rather than of ourselves. Anytime something on the outside changes, it triggers an internal fire drill. It’s impossible to build a stable, happy life when you encounter those fire drills left and right.