Karma Chameleon, sans Boy George and Culture Club

20 Jul

I’m sort of a chameleon, I guess, though I don’t care for reptiles and I am not really proud to admit I can change my mind, my position, my self so readily, based on my circumstances.  That a lizard can change the color of its skin to protect itself or to impress its lady friend is really quite amazing; just another example of why I believe in a Creator.  But I’m not so sure it’s a positive application when it comes to one’s convictions.

I do have what is known as a “sympathetic accent”:  I easily slip into whatever dialect my dialogue partner may exhibit.  I don’t mean to mock them, and I am always quick to assure them of that, in case they notice that I have suddenly started saying my vowels the same way they do, matching my lilt to theirs, leaving my endings off—or on—depending on their lead.  I don’t consider this necessarily a bad thing, unless someone gets offended.  People are so easily offended these days over lesser things, it seems.

When I lived in England my speech became so camouflaged, even the British weren’t sure of my origin.  “Irish?” they’d quiz, assuming I was from someone else, but not guessing American.  The one word that gave myself away was how I pronounced “water.”  The Brits, regardless of their region, all say “woo-tah” to some degree; my Kentucky accent came through loud and clear with “wadder,” in spite of all the other clipped sounds surrounding it.  That’s one word I never was able to manipulate.

That’s ok, too; I’m certainly not ashamed of my roots or of having them crawl out of my mouth at any given time.  I like being a conundrum, a mystery, an enigma. But as for being a chameleon, maybe not so much.  What it says about me is that I can too easily exchange my feelings, opinions, beliefs for those around me, that I’m pliable or  have a flexible spine.  I’d like to think I am more committed to my causes, have a stronger backbone, deeper convictions in the things I believe; I’d like to insist I do, but there it is.

I blame this inconsistency on the fact that I am ambidextrous.  Probably I was right-handed as a child, but my older sister went to school before I did, came home and insisted I learn to write with my left hand as she naturally did.  Confused, I just decided to use both hands.  That ability has served me well, especially as a teacher writing on the board with either hand to the delight of my students—except with scissors.  I don’t know too many people who can use left-handed scissors; I know I have to have the right-handed ones, the only ones that were available when I was growing up.  Left-handed people had to adapt to the right-handed world (not unlike women to a men’s world, blacks to a white world, Lilliputians to Brobdinagians, etc.) back in the day; this accounted for backward slanted scripts and bodies twisted into seats designed for right-handed writers. I wonder how many counselor’s couches have been filled by these traumatized left-handers.

On the other hand (ha, ha), I find I can see both sides to most situations fairly quickly; this lends itself, I think, to better mediation, compromise that satisfies both parties, fair play, liberty and justice for all, and all that.  The only time I recall my talent causing me real consternation was when I was taking my driver’s test:  I was so afraid the officer would tell me to turn right and I wouldn’t know which direction he meant.  I hadn’t learned the “L” for left with the fingers of my left hand yet.  I really had to stop and think about that one.

I always want to be fair—thus, seeing both sides—and I always want to be sure I have looked at all the evidence before coming to a conclusion.  I don’t like people who say, “Just because I said so” as a reason for obeying or acquiescing to “That’s just the way things are” as an excuse for accepting things that are inequitable or biased or fraudulent.  I hate to think I have based a decision or belief on a logical fallacy or on shallow or even false information.  Maybe that’s why I adamantly teach research and argument:  I want my students to vet their sources, get to the truth of the matter before staking any claim, solidly prove their thesis.  I hope I practice what I teach.

That said, I, again, have to admit a somewhat pathetic propensity for pleasing others, tending to agree rather than to argue, anything to avoid conflict.  When surrounded by like-minded people, it’s not hard to stand up for what one believes; when that circle is broken and infiltrated by other-thinking individuals, the test is harder to pass.  It is easier to think “liberal ideology” as a professor when ensconced in liberal academia, just as it is more comfortable to “amen” fundamentalism when immersed in the Bible Belt.

Maybe this wishy-washy way is not unique to me; I suspect it accounts for most of the creeds and convictions shared by most Americans, if not throughout the world.  We believe what those around us believe, what they tell us to believe, what we want to believe.  We reject Fox News when its conservatism makes us uncomfortable, preferring the soothing mesmerizing tones of NPR as its liberal assurances wash over us, lulling us into a sheep-like sleep.  Or we do the opposite when at home with like-minded listeners.

No wonder we are so confused, so mixed up, so directionless.  What Alices we are, wandering around in an upside-down wonderland.

But we don’t have to settle for such disorganization, such bewilderment, such misleading mantras.  We can escape the tangle of contemporary ambiguity if we exchange our human way of thinking for His omnipotent perspective. Isaiah 55 tells us God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, that his are as high above ours as the heavens are above the oceans.  Of course we’d expect Almighty God’s thoughts to be lofty, loftier than ours, but what should really blow our minds is what Paul tells us later in I Corinthians:  “we have the mind of Christ” (2:16).

Sound arrogant?  Maybe even a little blasphemous?  Only if we separate our self-opinion from who we are when inhabited by the Holy Spirit.  Just a couple of chapters later in his letter to the Corinthians Paul explains, “Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own” (I Cor. 6:19).

Paul is referring to something Jesus had already said, and I especially love how he presented it to his disciples as recorded in the 14th chapter of John:   I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. … The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:16-25).

So, we can stay our minds on him and his Spirit—or we can merge and blend in with everyone else with whom we rub elbows.  In other words, we can please everyone around us–or we can please God.  James warns that being double-minded is unstable, not unlike the house built on sand that collapsed in the first storm, and the Gospels are full of references to not serving two masters, even if those two are opposing sides of our own minds.  How is it humanly possible to control such ambiguity?  The point is:  it’s not.

I’ve found that the best way to keep my mind on track and to not veer off onto tangents is to stay as close as possible to whatever source I am trying to emulate.  If I want to speak with an Irish accent, I do it best in Ireland or at least listening to Irish music; if I want an British accent, I watch literary adaptations on BBC.

We’ve all made pink underwear out of washing red pants and white shirts together, though rarely intentionally. If I want to keep my colors true, I need to wash the same colors with each other and not try to crowd them all into the machine just to save a quarter or a quarter of an hour.  To extend the chameleon metaphor, if I want to stay true blue, I need to lounge on a blue blanket and not a multi-colored crazy quilt.

I’m not sure what a chameleon’s true colors are—probably green—but he’s so busy trying to fit into his surroundings, we may never know.  I hope the same won’t be said of me.  I need to find that Holy Spirit-colored blanket and wrap myself in it like a cocoon.  It may sound like a strait-jacket to some, but that’s the only color I want emanating from my habitat.


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