Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Chameleon


When we were young, we called them "chameleons." The biology teacher today told me that they really are "anoles." They were popular pets, permitted by even the most squeamish moms. They didn't make noise, didn't put out an odor and didn't live very long. They were mild-mannered and small and best of all, they had this amazing capacity to change color! The same animal would be a verdant green one minute, and several minutes later after being placed on a piece of bark, he would have turned to a nice dusty brown with scarcely a hint of green. We wished we had the ability to do the same, but try as we may, we remained the same colors we always were.
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I don't know whether it is just me, or whether it holds true for most people. But I've found that when I'm around someone a lot, I tend to pick up some of that person's characteristics. Sometimes for better; other times, for worse. The perceptive can tell when I've spent time with Joanne: I'll start calling them "Hon." Usually I'm aware of the cameleonism and work to keep the less desirable traits from taking root. There was a Woody Allen movie on this theme back in 1983; it was called "Zelig," and the title character actually changed his appearance. My case isn't that severe.
. . . .
I had a colleague that I spent a great deal of time with for five or six years; we shared a suite of offices. Over time I picked up two bad traits from him: making fun of people behind their backs and buying hardback books instead of waiting for titles to come out in paperback or -- heaven forfend -- using the library.
. . . .
That colleague has gone and I've made a conscious effort not to mock, and have had pretty good results from that effort. Have done really well with the book thing, too; I use the library almost exclusively. About the only new hardback books I buy are Harry Potter.
. . . .
My new suite-mate is different from his predecessor in so many ways. I wonder what characteristics of his I'm picking up. There are many desirable ones; for one thing, he buys paperback books. But if I have to pick one, there's no contest: Like Luther, he always assumes the most positive explanation for a person's behavior; he never rushes to a negative judgment. I admire this trait so much.
. . . .
I don't know if these chameleon things can be cultivated intentionally. But I'm trying my hardest on this one.

3 comments:

paula, the quilter said...

I really like your posts. They are so thought provoking for me. Thank you.

Mrs. Goodneedle said...

"Chameleonism", now that is a word, and a trait, to be aware of! Great post, Nancy!

Shelina said...

You are so right about this, we all have a tendency to adopt the characteristics of others in our group. I guess that is how accents are formed. I think it also affects our definition of "normal". If everyone in our group talks behind people's back - we assume that it is a normal thing to do.