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125 What kind of chameleon do you want to be? [9 Jul 2021]

Certain chameleons change their appearance to blend visually into their backgrounds. To the animals this is a survival mechanism. In modern vernacular, the term chameleon is usually used to condemn people who change their appearances to fit their circumstances. They are called shifty and accused of being untrue to their principles. This article calls us to respect the positive value of the survival mechanism. Humans are crowded now, and we need to fit in. We will consider applying that skill as a virtue.

The different analysis

Avoiding sameness

A proverb states that if a hermit and a thief occupy the same cave, there will soon be two hermits or two thieves. I reject that premise as inconsistent with prior discussions of personhood and individuality. Indeed, it is our differences that make us interesting and there is no virtue in becoming identical, undifferentiated.

People do learn from each other. I have suggested improved social order based on blending self with other. That is the search for common purpose as we meet our common needs. However, cooperation must never require common identity. Even if I acquire attributes of your skill set, we do not become identical. You welcome teaching me without making me an exact copy of you. We may hopefully be equal, but the world is richer because we remain distinct and differentiable. The variations contribute to invention and progress.

While fitting in

Joe Biden was criticized for crossing the aisle to sit next to his close friend John McCain. Friends told him he was associating with the enemy. That phraseology was an abuse of human dignity. The point is even deeper in the case of Ruth Bader Ginsberg who shared a close family-to-family friendship with Samuel Alito. Professionally they were dramatically opposed, but personally they respected each other as authentic human beings. Their work on the nation's highest court required the coming together of all the threads comprising our country, and society was blessed because opposite positions were championed by respectful, dignified friends.

These examples are perfect illustrations of blending self with other. Our common humanity takes precedence over our differences. Every act we perform requires a forbearance on the part of some other actor on the same stage. While we preserve identity, we progress by harmony. The word "enemy" is the nemesis of social order.

Applied to us chameleons

This is the virtue of chameleon adaptability. The creature fits in, blends with the background, and survives in its environment. In the human setting, we are not camouflaging to destroy each other by stealth. Instead, we diminish the appearance of difference to make commerce possible. Instead of preying on each other, we survive together. That calls for eliminating the concept "enemy" and emphasizing our appearance of sameness. In fact, what we have in common is the most authentic representation of our human condition. Viewed along with that truth, our differences are our opportunities for creativity. A diverse pluralistic team will produce more interesting and longer lasting results than a team of uniformly identical players. Success requires and fosters constructive imagination.

Where you stand

The germinal thought for today's article was the call to stand on healthy ground. I was bruised by political rancor. People of all stripes were condemning others for all wrongs. Irrational name-calling and unrealistic blaming were rampant in all parts of the political spectrum. I saw that unhealthy people were spreading their unhealthy thoughts in the name of calling for social progress. In my world, uncomplimentary epithets and the word "enemy" are symptoms of brokenness and self-condemnation. Happily productive people do not sling words of confrontation and hatred. I was overwhelmed realizing that to be unhappy is to be sick.

Enter this happiness blog. Standing on healthy ground, I have been calling us to live better by loving each other. The unhappiness revealed by discontent is an obstacle to our healthy living. Awareness of suffering is one thing; spreading the misery of suffering is quite different. Protest adds to the noise in the world, making peace harder to achieve. Where there is any tone of unkindness, it is a barrier to communicating positive life force.

On healthy ground

When people post complaints in the social media, they do so standing on unhappy ground. The complaints are calls for someone else to cure a problem. Those standing on healthier ground can take the same awareness of a suffering and present it as a growth opportunity. I admire the teachers throughout human history who have radiated positivism. In overcoming difficulty, they have spread the spirit of healing and promoted the emotions that bring out the best powers of the human spirit. I do all in my power to stand on that ground.

On sick ground

Police officers require a particular self-medication. They are dispatched to unhealthy territory. Where nothing is out of place, policing is out of place and collective control is not applied. By its nature, police work counters something unhealthy. The officer who is sent into the circumstance becomes the chameleon of today's story. I have permitted awareness of suffering. Correction of that suffering is never achieved by condemning it. Instead, love must be more powerful than the suffering so that the awareness effects healing. The messenger sent to unhealthy ground needs the sympathy to blend (fit into the context) without becoming part of the suffering. The chameleon adapts to the appearance to be effective. This does not include becoming part of the negative environment. Rather than being shifty and untrue to principle, the actor must cope with the situation with irrepressible internal happiness. The sense of mission is to maintain individual, distinctive integrity while imparting healing to the mess that exists. The teacher sees and acknowledges, but does not become part of, the chaos.

Here I invoke a favorite story of non-hatred. A Black musician through some fortuitous circumstance found himself sitting next to one of his friends on the platform of a KKK rally. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by animosity, he followed the pattern of Biden - McCain and Ginsberg - Alito. He listened appreciatively to the rhetoric about doing good and set aside the rhetoric of confrontation and separation. "Enemy" and "hatred" terminology was never his perception of the situation. After some years, the friend brought this musician a cloak and hood, saying "I just can't do this hate thing anymore." When people criticized the Black musician for "fraternizing with the enemy" he calmly asked "and how many capes and hoods have you collected from former KKK members?"

Applied to us chameleons

So, we come back to the virtue of not standing out in a confrontational manner. The animal that blends into the background escapes being eaten. The human who blends into a circumstance nevertheless preserves the integrity that effectively radiates healing to unhealthy ground. Being friends with hateful people does not make a strong person into a hater-but it does help to heal the hater! Our result is not two hermits or two thieves. Instead, it is open channels that communicate love, kindness, and caring-the world in which this true-to-self chameleon chooses to spread happiness.

Photo by Michael Held on Unsplash

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