When NBC began casting Nick Offerman for the role of Ron Swanson, the character was to be a gruff, Libertarian-type, director\manager for the Parks and Recreation Department of Pawnee, Indiana. The idea was that an anti-government guy that really hates what he does would be funny, and they were right. However, what Nick Offerman brought to the role, mainly due to his own true life manly pursuits, gave us something more than what they had imagined. Instead of your typical, dope-of-a-man character, people began to look at Ron Swanson and think, “Being a man looks like it would be pretty awesome!” And of course we were right.
Over the course of 5 seasons, with the sixth on it’s way, Parks and Recreation has fleshed out the character of Ron Swanson and in doing so taken us under the hood as to what makes this guy tick. Contrary to the script we had been sold (that a man who displays confidence is either arrogant or is just walling himself off to hide his deep insecurities), we see that Ron lives by a set of “Principles that he knows strongly enough that he can call them to mind at the drop of a hat.” Let’s take a look at these principles and see why they resonate with a society moving farther and farther away from them.
Disclaimer: I thoroughly enjoy Ron Swanson and likely think about the character and Nick Offerman more than is healthy for a man. I probably shouldn’t have to say this, but since I don’t know the age or maturity of the reader of this post I feel I ought. No man is perfect, save for one, and neither is Ron Swanson. So don’t try to chug a half jug of moonshine, eat a 16 oz. T-bone along with a 24 oz. Porterhouse, or eat all of the bacon and eggs at your local diner. Glean what you can from your heroes; discern for yourself where to draw the line.
The Manly Virtues of Ron Swanson
“People who buy things are suckers.” – Ron Swanson
Whether forging rings from a sconce or creating furniture, canoes, and whatever else may come to mind in Offerman Woodshop, Ron Swanson (or Nick Offerman) epitomizes the attitude a man should have. When faced with a need or a problem, our self should be the first one we look to for a solution. We may not be an expert but we shouldn’t automatically farm out all of our responsibilities to others. Many men I know, who have teenagers, pay someone to cut their grass for them. What a wasted opportunity! Do it yourself and take pride in your work.
Takes pleasure in the small things (Contentment & Simplicity)
“I am a simple man. I enjoy dark-haired women and breakfast foods.” – Ron Swanson
If you are a non-thinking sort of fellow and follow along with the rhetoric of our day, you will likely think that stuff is the key to happiness. Sure, you don’t need a mansion or an Aston Martin, but you spend your days and energy in pursuit of the attainable items; a newer truck, a larger home, a nicer yard, a bigger TV, a flush bank account. A real man finds pleasure in the small things in life, so he is never without contentment, and therefore is less likely to be lured (or suckered) into finding it in the most expensive ways possible.
Believes in Free Enterprise (Hard Work, Industry, & Ingenuity)
“Capitalism is God’s way of determining who is smart and who is poor.” – Ron Swanson
“Capitalism is the only way… It’s what makes America great. And England okay and France terrible.” – Ron Swanson
“There is only one bad word: taxes.” – Ron Swanson
“Let government be government and business be business.” – Ron Swanson
At the heart of Free Enterprise is the all but forgotten notion that some people will be better than you at many things, and therefore are entitled to the rewards their talents earn them. There is the greatest respect for those who work hard, little respect for those who work little, and no respect for those who take without working. Mr. Swanson is not happy when the government gets involved in business.
Hates lying (Integrity & Honesty)
“The only thing I hate more than lying is skim milk, which is water lying about being milk.” – Ron Swanson
A man should be forthright in all his dealings. If you cannot do something with integrity you should not do it at all. This also applies to being truthful when a mistake has been made. We have a natural tendency to protect ourselves when we believe our character may be damaged in the eyes of others. However, we do the most damage when we are caught in a lie. We damage our reputation and dishonor ourselves.
Mentors others (Leadership & Wisdom)
“Pawnee Rangers Handbook: 1. Be a man.” – Ron Swanson
“This weekend you have two parents: me and mother nature.” – Ron Swanson
Ron leads a troop of impressionable young boys with the Pawnee Rangers. He also mentors several other people on the show, most notably Andy and Tom. As we often see in real life, people go to those who appear confident and stable for advice, even when they may not always see eye to eye. Take a pointer from Ron and gather a few “Rangers” under your wing.
Financially responsible (Frugality & Prudence)
“I’m actually not sure how much money I have. But I do know how many pounds of money I have.” – Ron Swanson
“You won’t find any bank statements. I’ve heavily invested in gold which I have buried in various locations in Pawnee. … Or have I?” – Ron Swanson
Perhaps it’s Ron’s distrust of banks, likely due to their close ties to the government, or maybe he has a great long term vision for his finances, or possibly both, but one thing is for sure, he takes his money seriously. He isn’t a miser by any means. He has invested in businesses and used money as a tool to get his friends out of jams. But, he doesn’t live a frivolous life. Studies have shown that the most successful people in finances are those that can keep to a routine of slowly putting away for the rainy day, retirement, or collapse of America (which ever comes first). Anything that takes patience is a difficult thing for this generation of men which is why we so respect this virtue.
Loves nature & solitude (Reverence & Detachment)
“Fishing relaxes me. It’s like yoga except I still get to kill something.” – Ron Swanson
“I also think it’s pointless for a human to paint scenes of nature when they could just go outside and stand in it.” – Ron Swanson
We will sometimes find Ron at his cabin, having grown a feral beard, in order to sort out some of life’s challenges, or just to enjoy himself. I can’t count the number of times I have heard a man say, “I wish I had a place to get away from it all.” It seems to be the sentiment of our day. A man needs time for peace and quiet, to be alone with his thoughts, and to allow his mind to wonder about. There is something restorative about nature and solitude that a man should regularly experience.
Eats red meat (Vitality & Strength)
“I call it Turf N’ Turf. It’s a 16 oz. T-Bone and a 24 oz. Porterhouse. … I am going to consume all of this at once because I am a free American.” – Ron Swanson
“I keep a sizable amount of ground chuck in my desk.” – Ron Swanson
“You called me a vegetarian. What if that testimony leaks? How would people ever respect me?” – Ron Swanson
With all of the backlash against eating red meat (or meat in general), it is refreshing to see a man who recognizes its importance. Recent studies show the tremendous benefits of red meat. For men it is the best source of testosterone boosting nutrients such as zinc, iron, and B12. However, the quality of the beef has a big impact on overall health benefits. Wild game, such as venison, will typically have higher levels of nutrients and lower fat than your typical beef steak.
Loves America (Faithfulness, Loyalty, & Patriotism)
“America is the only country that matters. If you want to experience other cultures use an atlas or a ham radio.” – Ron Swanson
When growing up in the 80’s I remember thinking that America was undoubtedly the greatest country on earth. I don’t remember anyone questioning it. Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” ruled the airwaves. One of the sissifications of our culture is to ignore or disparage excellence for the sake of equality. So, in that respect it feels as if Ron Swanson is going against the grain to be so unapologetically proud to be an American. Likewise, be proud of whatever country you hail from, if indeed it is worthy.
Is a man of few words (Silence & Discretion)
“I once worked with a guy for three years and never learned his name. Best friend I ever had. We still never talk sometimes.” – Ron Swanson
Being comfortable with silence is often the test of a relationship. Good friends can be busy at work with very little said for quite some time. While silence is often related as a characteristic of those who are shy, it can also be attributed to proper self-esteem. When you find the need to speak it should carry some weight and the words should be chosen carefully.
Hates the bloated, nanny state of government (Liberality)
“My idea of a perfect government is one guy who sits in a small room at a desk, and the only thing he’s allowed to decide is who to nuke. The man is chosen based on some kind of IQ test, and maybe also a physical tournament, like a decathlon.”- Ron Swanson
“I have so many ideas. Some are simple like take down traffic lights and eliminate the post office. The bigger ones will be tougher, like ‘bring all this crumbling to the ground.’” – Ron Swanson
“I believe in cutting useless government projects. I also believe in cutting useful government projects, future projects, and past projects. The Hoover Damn was a travesty.” – Ron Swanson
“The government should not prop-up a failed business (bailout). That would be like giving food to a mortally wounded animal; instead of slitting it’s throat and properly utilizing its meat and pelt.” – Ron Swanson
Self-reliance is a virtue men admire. We enjoy the idea of competition in a fair environment. We also do not like being told how to live, what type of toilet we are allowed to put in our home, the types of light bulbs we can purchase, and the like.
Tells a good joke (Humor)
“I have a joke for you. The government in this town is excellent and uses your tax dollars efficiently.” – Ron Swanson
While he may not regularly joke around on the show, Nick Offerman’s deadpan humor makes Ron Swanson hysterical to the viewers. While most people have a sense of humor, understanding your audience and having a sense of comedic timing is a true skill. Along those same lines, the ability to add humor to almost any situation (when appropriate) is also a great trait to have. It can quickly relieve anxiety, allowing for better decision making, and actually promote bonding through trials.
Values Honor above all else (Honor)
“Honor: if you need it defined you don’t have it.” – Ron Swanson (Pyramid of Greatness)
“You committed perjury, but more importantly, you dishonored yourselves.” – Ron Swanson
The definition of honor literally means to add weight or value to something. For example, to honor a king one would bring him valuable gifts which in turn increase his wealth. Therefore, when we honor we add value to our own character. When we honor others we add value to them. Conversely, when we dishonor ourselves or others the value is decreased. Honor is the virtue that blankets all others.
I leave you with the Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness (click for the full size). Enjoy.