An Explanation of Human Chameleons

cha⋅me⋅le⋅on

[kuhmee-lee-uhn, meel-yuhn]

–noun

1. any of numerous Old World lizards of the family Chamaeleontidae, characterized by the ability to change the color of their skin, very slow locomotion, and a projectile tongue.
2. any of several American lizards capable of changing the color of the skin, esp. Anolis carolinensis (American chameleon), of the southeastern U.S.
3. a changeable, fickle, or inconstant person.
4. (initial capital letter) Astronomy. Chamaeleon.

Origin:
1300–50; var. of chamaeleon < L < Gk chamailéōn, equiv. to chamaí on the ground, dwarf (akin to humus ) + léōn lion; r. ME camelion < MF < L, as above
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Please direct your attention to Definition 3.  “a changeable, fickle, or inconstant person.”
Let me tell you why I disagree with this.
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I believe human chameleons are essential in this world.  People who have multiple versions of themselves can play many roles in society, and fill many voids at once.  To be a chameleon is to adapt constantly according to the need of the situation.  What this definition is implying is that society changes them, but it’s actually quite incorrect: a chameleon changes intentionally to best suit society.
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To be a human chameleon can have its benefits, both individually, and in social groups.  If a chameleon chooses its friends wisely, they can be everything they want to be, simply by proxy.  Through the chameleon’s innate desire to change, they can actually inspire themselves through their friendships to become like the people they so admire.  Becoming better is never a bad thing.  A chameleon always knows its true colours, but will sacrifice peacocking its identity for the sake of the situation.
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Now let’s look at the word fickle, defined as:

fickle
adjective
1. marked by erratic changeableness in affections or attachments; “fickle friends”; “a flirt’s volatile affections”
2. liable to sudden unpredictable change; “erratic behavior”; “fickle weather”; “mercurial twists of temperament”; “a quicksilver character, cool and willful at one moment, utterly fragile the next” [syn: erratic]
(from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/fickle ) by Princeton’s online dictionary, WordNet 3.0.
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Unpredictable change“?  How did chameleons suddenly become unreliable?  No, you won’t see a real chameleon change its colours when perfectly blended somewhere….. or they would no longer blend, and that’s not what a chameleon is all about.  Human chameleons are not unreliable; they will blend wherever they may go, but that can be relied upon.  You can always count on a chameleon to reflect their surroundings.
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You may wonder how someone can have a sense of identity if they are constantly changing.  This is a valid question, however, you need simply look at anyone else for your answer.  Can a child have a sense of identity and, as an adult, have the same one?  Can someone have a sense of identity, go through a life-changing moment, and it stay the same?  No, people change; identities change.  However, chameleons generally still have what I call default personalities, ones that they exemplify when they are in situations where they feel comfortable.  These default personalities might, or might not, coincide with their neutral personalities.  Neutral personalities are ones that chameleons adopt when in new situations or meeting new people.  They are the versions of themselves that they have deemed least threatening — to others, or to themselves.  Yes, certain personalities can expose the chameleon more than they would like, and therefore are not usually the same as the default ones.
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Since chameleons are able to change their moods in situations, they can often be unsure of themselves, as they can have easily avoided addressing the issue of beliefs.  Beliefs are as constant in chameleons as they are with non-chameleons; they do not change in different situations; they do not meld any more or less than anyone else’s when faced with new ideas.  As chameleons can often evade difficult confrontations and intimate questioning via distraction through other personalities, some may not be sure as to the real answers of those questions, and when trying to discover themselves, may feel lost.  “Others have already figured out their beliefs,” they may think, “why haven’t I been able to pinpoint mine?”  The solution to this is simply (and very not-so-simply) to ask themselves these very questions, to investigate how they would react in certain ethical situations if no one were around to judge or blend with.  This is a difficult process (and one that tests a chameleon’s ability to moderate their own subjectivity), as a chameleon is used to looking to others for guidance in how to act.  However, even a chameleon will refuse to blend in a situation where they feel something is wrong.  This is due to the beliefs that they have determined.  Regardless the situation, if a chameleon has a belief that is being disregarded, they will not feel comfortable blending.  This is why I feel the definition of being “fickle” is quite incorrect; chameleons do not usually demean their integrity by associating (via blending) with people or situations that are contrary to their personal spirit.
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I hope this has been somewhat informative for people who may feel like they are chameleons at heart, but maybe had previously thought it was shameful.  Chameleons play a vital ‘role of roles’ in society, and should be appreciated for the adaptable creatures they are.
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Copyright L.M. 2008.
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One thought on “An Explanation of Human Chameleons

  1. Coady December 10, 2008 / 2:46 pm

    I agree!

    I think chameleons are often diplomats and are masters of tact as well. I think people often confuse human-chameleons with the disappearing man and two-face. Big difference in personalities and motives.

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